Congressional Leaders Agree to Renew Patriot Act
Thomas R. Eddlem|New American
The Republican House and Democratic Senate leadership are backing a deal to extend three of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act, and the Senate voted 74-8 for cloture (to limit debate before passage) on the bill May 23. The vote was not a surprise to political observers, who expect a closer vote in the House of Representatives.
The Republican and Democratic ranks of the House have demonstrated some reluctance to pass the bill, however. A majority of Democrats voted against renewal February 17. And Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post explained May 20 that “House Republicans, meanwhile, have their own problem to worry about — the more than two dozen members who voted against the extension this year. House Republicans have a 22-seat majority in the House, meaning if the members who voted against the earlier Patriot Act extensions maintain their opposition, Republican leaders will need the support of Democrats to pass the bill.” Only two Republicans in the Senate — Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Utah’s Mike Lee, both Tea Party affiliates — opposed the Patriot act extension in the Senate in a February 15 vote earlier this year.
Congress passed the Patriot Act in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks; the bill aims to increase surveillance of Americans and suspected terrorists. The three Patriot Act provisions set to sunset at the end of May include:
1) the “roving wiretap” provision, which allows the federal government to wiretap any number of telephone/internet connections on a suspect without specifying what they will find or how many phones they will tap;
2) the “financial records” section, which allows the feds to seize “any tangible thing” related to an investigation, even if the owner of the data is not accused of doing anything illegal; and
3) the “lone wolf” provision, which virtually unlimited surveillance of “non-U.S. person” inside the United States who “engages in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor.”
All three provisions flagrantly violate the particularity clause of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires that search warrants contain language “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”