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Deal Reached on Extension of Patriot Act

Friday, 20 May 2011 04:35 By Charlie Savage, The New York Times News Service | Report
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Washington - Congressional leaders on Thursday reached a deal to extend by four years several statutes that expanded the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterterrorism and surveillance powers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, aides said.

Under the deal, two sections of the so-called USA Patriot Act and a third provision from a related intelligence law would be extended, without any changes, until June 1, 2015. The provisions had been set to expire later this month.

The sections allow investigators to get “roving wiretap” court orders allowing them to follow terrorism suspects who switch phone numbers or providers; to get orders allowing them to seize “any tangible things” relevant to a security investigation, like a business’s customer records; and to get national-security wiretap orders against noncitizen suspects who are not believed to be connected to any foreign power.

Some lawmakers had proposed tightening the circumstances when the F.B.I. could use the surveillance powers. Others — including the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont — had proposed requiring greater auditing and public reporting about their use.

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The Obama administration asked Congress to renew the provisions, while taking a coy stance about whether any particular changes were a good idea. Some Republicans, meanwhile, argued that the provisions should be made permanent without any modifications.

The deal to extend the powers without changes followed negotiations between the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and Republican leaders including the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and the speaker of the House, John A. Boehner.

Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has pressed for greater limits on the Patriot Act powers, expressed disappointment that the push to overhaul the law had culminated “in no reform and no long-lasting institutional oversight.”

Pointing to Mr. Leahy’s proposal for greater auditing and public reporting, Ms. Richardson added, “It’s shocking that even some of those requirements are now down the drain for another four years.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Leahy had no immediate comment.

Congress overwhelmingly passed the original Patriot Act in October 2001. Over time, for those who believed that government power had expanded too far, the act became a symbol of eroding civil liberties and privacy rights. Supporters say the powers are necessary to protect the country and have accused its critics of exaggerating the risk of abuse.


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