December 22, 2005

House extends anti-terror act to February 3

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on
Thursday agreed to extend until February 3 key provisions of
the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act that had been set to expire
at the end of the month, allowing time for lawmakers to
consider civil liberties protections.

The Senate was expected to agree to a short extension of
existing law Thursday night, even though it had approved a six-
month extension on Wednesday.

The shorter timetable was sought by House Judiciary
Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican,
who is pushing for the Senate to accept a White House-backed
compromise to make the law permanent. Sensenbrenner said he
wanted to keep lawmakers to a tight deadline.

A senior administration official said President George W.
Bush would sign a one-month extension of the act even though he
had objected to any temporary extension of current law and
wanted Congress to accept the compromise.

Senate Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans,
blocked that compromise arguing more time was needed to ensure
a balance between national security and the civil liberties of
Americans. The battle over the Patriot got caught up in recent
disclosures that Bush authorized spying on Americans with
suspected ties to terrorists without seeking a court order.

Sensenbrenner defended the compromise, which passed the
House, saying it contained more protections than the current
law that is being extended.

"The Senate is going to have to make a decision,"
Sensenbrenner said at a news conference. "They can either
accept the conference report, which has over 30 additional
civil liberties safeguards that are not in the current Patriot
Act or they can vote for extensions of the current Patriot Act
that do not contain the civil liberties safeguards."


House Democrats went along with the short extension, even
though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California
Democrat, said she would have preferred more than one month to
refine civil liberties protections.

"The portion of the law in dispute is the very
controversial section that affects the basic civil liberties of
the of the American people," she said.

Senate Democrats said the timetable was unimportant.

"The amount of time is less important than the good faith
effort that will be needed in improving the Patriot Act to
strike the right balance in respecting Americans' liberty and
privacy, while protecting their security," said Sen. Patrick
Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary

Initially passed after the September 11 attacks, the
Patriot Act expanded the authority of the federal government to
conduct secret searches, obtain private records, intercept
telephone calls and take other actions in the effort to track
down suspected terrorists.

Among the civil liberties being debated in Congress are
rules for "roving" wiretaps of suspects who use multiple
telephones and court orders for records for businesses,
libraries, bookstores and even personal medical records.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan)