Thursday, February 17, 2011

House clears way for PATRIOT Act extension

House clears way for PATRIOT Act extension

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The US House of Representatives voted Thursday night to clear the road for an extension of controversial provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act.

The final vote was 248 to 176 [1], largely along party lines. Just 4 Republicans voted against the extension, while only 15 Democrats voted for it.

Under the House bill, the act would be extended until Dec. 8. A vote was planned for Monday.

Democrats protested a Republican plan to hold the vote under the "closed rule," which prevented amendments.

The last PATRIOT Act extension was passed in Feb. 2010.

Thursday's House vote paved the way for a second ballot on the PATRIOT Act, allowing it to clear the chamber with a simple majority. An earlier vote failed [2] when it did not obtain a two thirds majority.

The Wednesday vote was 23 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass it under a procedure that allows bills that aren't controversial to pass quickly.

When the act was first signed into law, Congress put in some "sunset" provisions to quiet the concerns of civil libertarians, but they were ignored by successive extensions. Unfortunately, those concerns proved to be well founded, and a 2008 Justice Department report confirmed that the FBI regularly abused their ability to obtain personal records [3] of Americans without a warrant.

The only real sign of strong opposition to the act was in 2005, when a Democratic threat to filibuster its first renewal was overcome by Senate Republicans.

The Obama administration had called for the act to be extended for three years [4], two years longer than Republicans were seeking.

As a US Senator and candidate for the presidency, Barack Obama never actually argued for a repeal of the Bush administration's security initiatives. Instead, he's consistently argued for enhanced judicial oversight and a pullback on the most extreme elements of the bill, such as the use of National Security Letters to search people's personal records without a court-issued warrant.

A prior version of this article said the House had passed the PATRIOT Act extension.

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