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New Extension Likely for Key Patriot Act Provisions

CQ Politics | February 11, 2010

The Senate may vote on a second temporary extension of several controversial counterterrorism authorities as part of the jobs bill unveiled Thursday.

The draft bill carries language that would extend until Dec. 31 three expiring provisions of the antiterrorism law known as the Patriot Act.

The three provisions were set to expire at the end of 2009. But neither House nor Senate Democratic leaders evinced any appetite for tackling a substantive rewrite of the law last year. In December, Congress cleared a short-term re-authorization until Feb. 28, as part of the fiscal 2010 Defense appropriations bill.

One of the expiring provisions allows the government to seek orders from a special federal court for “any tangible thing” that it says is related to a terrorism investigation. Another allows the government to seek court orders for roving wiretaps on terrorism suspects who shift their modes of communication.

The third provision allows the government to apply to the special court for surveillance orders involving suspected “lone wolf” terrorists who do not necessarily have ties to a larger organization. That authority was first enacted as part of a 2004 intelligence overhaul law. In September, the Justice Department told lawmakers that the provision had never been used.

The administration wants lawmakers to pass a long-term reauthorization of all the expiring provisions, with as few changes as possible. House and Senate Republicans also favor that approach.

What little legislative battling there has been so far has been both a partisan fight and an intramural one among House and Senate Democrats.

The lack of congressional focus on the issue last year frustrated civil libertarians who wanted lawmakers to undertake a broader review of counterterrorism laws enacted during George W. Bush ’s presidency.

If lawmakers reauthorize the expiring provisions until Dec. 31, they would avoid having to address the issue until after the November midterm elections.


February 12, 2010 - Posted by | Civil Liberties

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