Senate Resoundingly Renews Patriot Act

patriot act: capitol dome and patriot act over us flag
The Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to renew the USA Patriot Act, after months of pitched debate over legislation that supporters said struck a better balance between privacy rights and the government's power to hunt down terrorists.

The 89-10 vote marked a bright spot in President Bush's troubled second term as his approval ratings dipped over the war in Iraq and his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. Renewing the act, congressional Republicans said, was key to preventing more terror attacks in the United States.

Mr. Bush, in a statement issued by the White House while he was in India, applauded the Senate for overcoming what he said were attempts by Democrats to block the bill's passage.

"This bill will allow our law enforcement officials to continue to use the same tools against terrorists that are already used against drug dealers and other criminals, while safeguarding the civil liberties of the American people," he said.

The legislation renews the two most controversial section for four more years — letting FBI agents secretly sweep up records from banks, Internet companies doctors and libraries, and making it a crime for those places to tell their customers their records have been searched, reports CBS' Bob Fuss.

Critics maintained the bill is weighted too much toward the interests of law enforcement.

The House was expected to pass the legislation next week and send it to Mr. Bush, who would sign it before 16 provisions expire March 10.

A December filibuster led by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and joined by several libertarian-leaning Republicans, forced the Bush administration to agree to modest new curbs on government power.

Feingold insisted those new protections are cosmetic.

"Americans want to defeat terrorism and they want the basic character of this country to survive and prosper," he said. "They want both security and liberty, and unless we give them both, and we can if we try, we have failed."

Lawmakers who voted for the package acknowledged deep reservations about the power it would grant to any president.

"Our support for the Patriot Act does not mean a blank check for the president," said Democratic leader Harry Reid. "What we tried to do on a bipartisan basis is have a better bill. It has been improved."