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Senate Resoundingly Renews Patriot Act


The vote was a significant victory for Mr. Bush after revelations late last year that he had authorized a domestic wiretapping program provided ammunition to senators demanding more privacy protections in the Patriot Act.

Senate Democrats and a few Republicans refused to allow a vote before Christmas on renewing the law before 16 provisions expired on Dec. 31.

Unable to break the deadlock, Congress opted instead to extend the deadline twice while negotiations continued. In the end, the White House and the Republicans broke the stalemate by crafting a second measure that would curb some powers of law enforcement officials seeking information. Both will be sent as a package to Mr. Bush.

This second bill, in effect an amendment to the measure renewing the 16 provisions, would add new protections to the 2001 antiterror law in three areas. It would:

  • Give recipients of court-approved subpoenas for information in terrorist investigations the right to challenge a requirement that they refrain from telling anyone.
  • Eliminate a requirement that an individual provide the FBI with the name of a lawyer consulted about a National Security Letter, which is a demand for records issued by investigators.
  • Clarify that most libraries are not subject to demands in those letters for information about suspected terrorists.

    Passed in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the original Patriot Act expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.

    The renewal package would make 14 of 16 temporary provisions permanent and set four-year expirations on the others.

    The renewal includes several measures not directly related to terrorism. One would make it harder for illicit labs to obtain ingredients for methamphetamine by requiring pharmacies to sell nonprescription cold medicines only from behind the counter.

    Another focuses on port security, imposing new criminal sanctions and a death sentence in certain circumstances for placing a device or substance in U.S. waters that could damage vessels or cargo.

    Feingold's chief ally, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said the package was not enough to check what he described as a presidential tendency through history of "always grabbing more power."

    "The erosion of freedom rarely comes as an all-out frontal assault," warned Byrd, the dean of the Senate. "Rather, it is a gradual, noxious creeping cloaked in secrecy and glossed over by reassurances of greater security."

    The "no" votes came from Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., and Feingold, Byrd and seven other Senate Democrats: Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Carl Levin of Michigan, Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon.