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House passes Patriot Act after initial defeat

The House of Representatives approved a nine-month extension of the Patriot Act on Feb. 14, after voting it down the week before.

A vote on Feb. 8 fell just short of a two-thirds majority approval needed from the House. However, on Feb. 14, a vote was taken under regular rules and the measure passed by a simple majority of 275 to 144.

An unlikely coalition of Republicans and Democrats voted Feb. 8 not to renew the measure until some of the broad surveillance provisions in it were debated more thoroughly. The renewal bill, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), would extend some of the broad surveillance capabilities until December, 2011.

Three controversial provisions in the legislation center around U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) warrants. One provision allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get wiretaps from the court without identifying the kind of communications technology is to be tapped. Another provision lets the FISA court electronically monitor a subject without showing them to be a terrorist or foreign agent. A third provision allows the court to issue warrants for any kind of record, from banking to medical, without saying if the information being sought is connected to terrorism or espionage.

Opposition in the House and digital privacy rights advocates scrambled Feb. 14 to urge the Senate not to approve the extension in the coming weeks.

“Now, the Senate is our last hope to stop Patriot renewal and obtain meaningful Patriot reform. The Senate is expected to vote on a PATRIOT renewal bill this week, so contact your Senators today and urge them to vote NO on the PATRIOT Act,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an alert on its Web site.

The group said there is still a bi-partisan group of representatives that oppose the measures. “Of the 144 votes against the House bill, 26 came from Republicans, who argued that the law's broad surveillance powers constitute a big government intrusion into the lives of private citizens,” said the group, counting California Republican Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia in that coalition.


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