House votes to extend controversial Patriot Act surveillance provisions

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted 275 to 144 [roll call vote] Monday to extend surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act [text; JURIST news archive] which could expire February 28. A vote on the bill [HR 514] to extend the provisions failed [JURIST report] last weak under a special rule that required a two-thirds majority, but passed Monday with a simple majority. The provisions set to expire included the authority: for roving surveillance, including wire-taps and cell phone monitoring; to compel production of business records and "other tangible things" under section 215 of the Act; and to allow the US to target non-US persons "who engage in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor, but are not necessarily associated with an identified terrorist group," under the "lone wolf" amendment, section 6001. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] has been an outspoken critic of the Patriot Act. ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said [press release]:

It has been nearly a decade since the Patriot Act was passed and our lawmakers still refuse to make any meaningful changes to this reactionary law. The right to privacy from government is a cornerstone of our country's foundation and Americans must be free from the kind of unwarranted government surveillance that the Patriot Act allows. If Congress cannot take the time to insert the much needed privacy safeguards the Patriot Act needs, it should allow these provisions to expire.
Though most Republicans supported the Bill, the vote did not come down on strict party lines [NYT report] with 65 Democrats voting in favor of it, including Representative CA Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) [official website], the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration released a Statement of Administration Policy [text, PDF] vying for a three-year renewal of the provisions, but expressed support for the Bill passed Monday. The provisions were previously extended in February 2010 after the Obama administration asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend [JURIST reports] the Patriot Act. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a constitutional challenge to the Patriot Act in December 2009 due to lack of standing. The US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website] had previously ruled that certain provisions of the act were unconstitutional [JURIST report]. The Patriot Act was passed in 2001, on the heels of the 9/11 attacks, greatly expanding US law enforcement's powers of surveillance and discretion when conducting terrorism investigations, and the US Government's ability to regulate foreign individuals' and immigrants' financial transactions.

 

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