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Fight Still Looms Over Patriot Act

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AP / CBS
Congressional Republican leaders are pressing for passage next week of a new Patriot Act to combat terrorism, but a Senate filibuster looms on a measure that liberal and conservative critics alike say is a threat to individual liberties.

"Just as the Senate did four years ago, we should unite in a bipartisan way to support the Patriot Act, to stand up for freedom and against terror," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Thursday as GOP negotiators from the House and Senate sealed their White House-backed compromise.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a statement saying the measure would aid "in the detection, disruption and dismantling of terrorist cells before they strike."

On Thursday, just three weeks before key sections are due to expire, congressional negotiators struck a deal extending for another four years the most controversial parts of the Patriot Act, including allowing the FBI to secretly search records of libraries, bookstores and doctors' offices, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports.

Also extended for four years is the power to wiretap "lone wolf" terrorists who may operate on their own, without control from a foreign agent or power. An earlier, pre-Thanksgiving stab at compromise had called for seven-year extensions of these provisions.

Yet another provision, which applies to all criminal cases, gives the government 30 days to provide notice that it has carried out a search warrant.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, described the final product as "not a perfect bill but a good one," and credited the White House with helping bring the House and Senate negotiators together.

But lawmakers in both parties attacked the measure. "This battle is not over," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who complained that the bill lacked "adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms." He vowed to do everything he could, including a filibuster, to stop the bill from passing.

It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. While Republican officials seemed confident the bill would pass the House, it was not clear Thursday night that it could command the level of support needed for Senate passage as well.

Feingold was the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act, which passed in the days following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, four years later, lawmakers in both parties appear more willing to express their opposition, on grounds that the bill fails to protect privacy rights. Three Republican and three Democratic senators issued a statement calling for revisions to give law enforcement "the tools they need while providing safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans." The six included Republicans John Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry Craig of Idaho and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, plus Feingold and fellow Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois and Ken Salazar of Colorado.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid intends to oppose the bill, based on what he has reviewed to date, according spokesman Jim Manley. He said the Nevada lawmaker needs to consult with fellow Democrats before deciding whether to join a filibuster.