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House Debates Patriot Act

Patriot Act, Civil Liberties, Constitution
CBS
Just hours after explosions created fresh terrorist concerns in London on Thursday, the House debated an extension of the USA Patriot Act, the premier American anti-terrorism tool.

The bill (H.R. 3199) called for making permanent 14 of 16 provisions of the original law, passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and scheduled to expire at the end of this year. It also gave a 10-year extension to two provisions — one allowing roving wiretaps and another allowing searches of library and medical records — that triggered passionate arguments between Democrats and Republicans.

"This is the single most important vote that Congress will cast to keep America safe during 2005," Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said during a news conference to preview the debate.

The Patriot Act moved forward in the Senate as well, as the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved changes Thursday and sent the measure to the floor for a vote. The changes, agreed to after all-night negotiations, include a provision that requires law enforcement to report within seven days of a search warrant being granted whether there was enough evidence to justify the search.

The panel also deleted a provision requiring law enforcement agencies to report on wiretaps in a way they found onerous.

A competing bill also has been approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would give the FBI expanded powers to subpoena records without the approval of a judge or grand jury. That ensures further Senate talks on the terrorism-fighting measure.

While civil libertarians have expressed concern about the original law, passed by Congress just 45 days after the Sept. 11 attacks, congressional and Justice Department advocates argue it has accelerated the pursuit and prosecution of suspected terrorists by breaking down barriers between law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com