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House panel OK's changes in Patriot Act

WASHINGTON -- The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee approved Democratic provisions yesterday that would place modest controls over the ways the FBI can monitor terrorism suspects under the Patriot Act.

Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, opened the session to the public in a limited way by allowing an Associated Press reporter to attend -- a move that aides said was unprecedented.

Three other amendments that Democrats had proposed failed, including one that would have blocked investigators from getting records from libraries or bookstores.

The panel approved a measure that would let a provision expire in 2010 -- unless extended by Congress -- that would allow FBI wiretaps on terror suspects who may be operating on their own, without control from a foreign power.

The legislators also accepted another Democratic proposal requiring federal agents to give more details to judges about roving wiretaps, which do not require investigators to specify the name of the targeted person or the mode of communication.

The Patriot Act expanded the government's intelligence-gathering powers after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The renewal of the bill, which the panel approved yesterday by voice vote, would extend more than a dozen of the act's provisions, including one that makes it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share information related to terrorism.

Republicans trying to renew, and in some cases expand, the Patriot Act say it has been used in a restrained way to combat terrorism. Some Democrats say the measure gives too much power to the authorities and argue that there is little evidence that the legislation has produced results.

In the House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, lawmakers are moving toward making most of the expiring Patriot Act provisions permanent. Additional reporting requirements would be instituted for the Justice Department.

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