After all the blustering and handwringing, the Senate voted 89-10 today to renew the Patriot Act:
WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday gave its blessing to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act after adding new privacy protections designed to strike a better balance between civil liberties and the government’s power to root out terrorists.
The 89-10 vote marked a bright spot in President Bush’s troubled second term as his approval ratings dipped over the war in Iraq and his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Renewing the act, Bush and congressional Republicans said, was key to preventing more terror attacks in the United States.
“This bill will allow our law enforcement officials to continue to use the same tools against terrorists that are already used against drug dealers and other criminals, while safeguarding the civil liberties of the American people,” Bush said in a statement from India.
Critics held their ground. A December filibuster led by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and joined by several libertarian-leaning Republicans, forced the Bush administration to agree to modest new curbs on the government’s power to probe library, bank and other records.
Some concessions had to be made in order for the Senate to vote in favor of renewal:
â€¢ Give recipients of court-approved subpoenas for information in terrorist investigations the right to challenge a requirement that they refrain from telling anyone.
â€¢ Eliminate a requirement that an individual provide the FBI with the name of a lawyer consulted about a National Security Letter, which is a demand for records issued by investigators.
â€¢ Clarify that most libraries are not subject to demands in those letters for information about suspected terrorists.
Passed in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the original Patriot Act expanded the government’s surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.
The renewal package would make 14 of 16 temporary provisions permanent and set four-year expirations on the others.
The House is expected to vote to renew the Patriot Act next week and send it to the President for him to sign.
It’s about time.
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