House votes to extend Patriot Act with few changes

By Larry Margasak
Associated Press / February 26, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Key provisions of the nation’s primary counterterrorism law would be extended for a year under a bill passed by the House last night after Democrats retreated from adding privacy protections.

The House voted, 315 to 97, to extend the Patriot Act, sending the bill to President Obama. Without the bill, the provisions would expire Sunday.

The Senate approved the extension Wednesday. The privacy protections were cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Some in Congress had sought to increase restrictions and scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.

The Democratic retreat is a political victory for Republicans and a major disappointment for Democrats and their allies who believe the Patriot Act fails to protect privacy and gives the government too much authority to spy on Americans and seize their property.

The three sections of the Patriot act that would stay in force:

■ Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.

■ Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in antiterrorism operations.

■ Permit surveillance against what’s called a “lone wolf,’’ a non-citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

The bill with privacy protections had been approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan majority. But that bill could not survive an expected Republican filibuster.

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that any changes to the Patriot Act would weaken it.

“Recent terror attacks, such as those at Fort Hood and on Christmas Day, demonstrate just how severe of a threat we are facing,’’ Sessions said.

The Obama administration supported the Senate committee revisions.