Congress Headed for PATRIOT Act Debate This Year
by Gavin Baker
Feb 16, 2011
The Senate voted yesterday to extend expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act until May 27. The House had voted to extend the provisions until December 8; today, the House agreed to consider the Senate version. The House and Senate have to agree before Feb. 28 or the provisions will expire.
The bill, which passed the Senate 86-12, extends three controversial provisions of the intelligence law. The expiring provisions authorize the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to grant warrants to federal investigators for "roving wiretaps" of an individual; for surveillance of a foreign citizen, even without showing that the person is a terrorist or foreign agent; and for "business records," including library records.
Either date would require Congress to revisit the issue later this year, which suggests a willingness to more fully debate the provisions. Before yesterday's vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pledged that the Senate would allow "an extended period of time–a week at least–to offer amendments and do whatever people feel is appropriate on this bill."
Congress has several options with regard to the expiring provisions:
- Extend the provisions again, with or without reforms
- Make the provisions permanent, with or without reforms
- Allow the provisions to expire
Some Senators are already staking out their position. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has introduced a bill to extend and reform these and other provisions, adding transparency and oversight mechanisms. Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) issued a statement opposing any extension.
As they currently stand, the provisions imperil both government transparency and nonprofit rights. It'd be a shame if Congress misses this opportunity to vigorously examine the necessity, effects, and constitutionality of these provisions.back to Blog