Senate Wants Patriot Act Extended

Patriot Act, Civil Liberties, Constitution
The GOP-controlled Senate voted Friday to make permanent most of the expiring provisions of the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act.

Senators, however, set new four-year expiration dates on the most controversial provisions of the law, those allowing federal agents to use roving wiretaps and to search library and medical records.

The passage of the Senate legislation, which was by voice vote minutes before the chamber left for a month-long summer break, sets up a fall confrontation with the Republican-controlled House, which wanted 10-year expirations, or sunsets, on those two provisions.

Also Friday, a federal judge in California ruled that some provisions of the Patriot Act dealing with foreign terrorist organizations remain too vague to be understood by a person of average intelligence and are therefore unconstitutional.

The House and the Senate will try to negotiate a compromise bill to send to President Bush before December, when 16 provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire.

The roving wiretap provision allows investigators to obtain warrants to intercept a suspect's phone conversations or Internet traffic without limiting investigators to a specific phone or requiring them to identify the suspect. The records provision authorizes federal officials to obtain "tangible items" such as business, library and medical records.

"The Patriot Act is a uniquely valuable piece of legislation for this unparalleled time in American history, and its provisions will help keep us safe and defeat the hidden terrorist cells operating here in America," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.