The Senate passed by voice vote Wednesday night legislation that would temporarily extend three Patriot Act provisions set to expire at the end of this month.
The bill would keep in place the Patriot Act’s “lone wolf,” business records and “roving wiretap” powers until Feb. 28, 2011. The House has yet to consider the measure.
Both the House and Senate had begun work on long-term renewals, but the bills contained major differences.
The Senate Patriot Act bill would reauthorize all of the authorities. The House version would renew the records and “roving wiretap” powers but not the “lone wolf” authority, which the government has never used. The bills also would include new oversight for the authorities.
The Senate bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee last October and is awaiting floor action. The House bill, which won Judiciary Committee approval last November, is also awaiting floor action.
“I would have preferred to add oversight and judicial review improvements to any extension of expiring provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act,” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement Wednesday night.
Here is a summary of the provisions that are due to expire:
- Lone wolf: Allows the government to track a target without any discernible affiliation to a foreign power, such as an international terrorist group. The provision applies only to non-U.S. persons. The government has never used it.
- Business records: Allows investigators to compel third parties, including financial services and travel and telephone companies, to provide them access to a suspect’s records without the suspect’s knowledge.
- Roving wiretaps: Allows the government to monitor phone lines or Internet accounts that a terrorism suspect may be using, regardless of whether others who are not suspects also regularly use them. The government must provide the FISA court with specific information showing the suspect is purposely switching means of communication to evade detection.
Comment: There was nothing patriotic about the bill when it was first passed, and there is still nothing patriotic about it today.