Update: President Obama signed a one-year extension of three sections of the USA Patriot Act on Feb. 27, 2010 without any restrictions on the provisions that many lawmakers and civil liberty advocates sought to safeguard American civil liberties.
Ignoring calls for increased civil liberties protections, on Feb. 26, 2010 the House of Representatives passed a bill extending three expiring measures of the Patriot Act by one year. Without the bill, the provisions would have expired on Feb. 28. With the Senate having approved their version of the extension the day before with a voice vote, the bill now heads to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
Last fall, committees in both the House and Senate approved bills that sought greater scrutiny on government authority. Neither bill made it the floor for a vote. According to Forbes.com, the House Judiciary Committee bill would have “restricted FBI information demands known as national security letters, and made it easier to challenge gag orders imposed on Americans whose records are seized with these letters. Library records would have received extra protections. Congress would have closely scrutinized FBI use of the Patriot Act to prevent abuses. Dissemination of surveillance results would have been restricted, and after a time, unneeded records would have been destroyed.” The Senate’s changes were more modest, only making minor alterations to the provisions.
The extension is viewed as a major disappointment for lawmakers and civil liberty advocates who believe the Patriot Act fails to protect personal privacy and provides the government with excessive authority to spy on Americans and seize their property. Concerend about abuses of the law during the last administration, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) opposed the extension. "While I strongly support using the most robust tools possible to go after terrorists, Congress must revise and narrow -- not extend -- Bush era policies," Harman said.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) criticized the lack of increased privacy protections. “I would have preferred to add oversight and judicial review improvements to any extension of expiring provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act,” he said.
Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, said in an ACLU press release, “Once again, we have missed an opportunity to put the proper civil liberties and privacy protections into this bill. Congress should respect the rule of law and should have taken this opportunity to better protect the privacy and freedom of innocent Americans. We shouldn’t have to live under these unconstitutional provisions for another year.”
If the bill is signed by President Obama, which is expected, the three provisions of the Patriot act that would be extended for one year would:
- Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
- Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.
- Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
Additional information about the Patriot Act is available at the ACLU website.