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Monday, February 28, 2011

Temporary Patriot Act extension gets final OK in Congress

The House passes a three-month extension of parts of the law, 279 to 143, and President Obama is expected to sign it. But the move only postpones debate on the issue, which has created unusual political allies.

Congress gave final approval Thursday to a temporary extension of parts of the Patriot Act, a step that merely postpones a burgeoning political debate over the controversial anti-terrorism law and its implications for civil liberties in the United States.

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, forming an unusual coalition with Republican leaders to prevent three key surveillance provisions favored by intelligence officials from expiring at the end of the month.

But an equally unusual coalition opposes the extension. It's composed of congressional Democrats and conservatives — veteran Republicans as well as new lawmakers who won with support from the "tea party" movement. They dislike the expanded surveillance powers the law provides to government agents.

The three-month extension gives Republican leaders and administration officials time to forge a new political strategy and allows opponents room to propose changes before the measures expire again this spring.

"We cannot afford to leave our intelligence officials without the tools they need to keep America safe," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

But civil liberties advocates said the provisions lacked proper privacy safeguards. Foreshadowing the coming debate, Republicans said they wanted to make the law permanent, while civil liberties groups will press for continued expiration dates to ensure congressional oversight.

"There's going to be a tension between those who want to put some very modest checks and balances in the law and those who might use this as an opportunity to seek more spying authority," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Los Angeles Times


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