Senators Stall Reauthorization of Patriot Act
Washington, DC – Citing concerns over the elimination of some civil liberty protections, a bipartisan coalition of Senators threatened to block a tentative agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on legislation to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act.
A Congressional Conference Committee has been working since the beginning of November to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the USA Patriot reauthorization bill. The conferees reached a tentative agreement on November 17th that would make permanent fourteen provisions of the Patriot Act. In addition, three other provisions would be extended for seven years.
Senators Larry Craig (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), Ken Salazar (D-CO) and John Sununu (R-NH) complained that the conference report as drafted is a significant departure from the balance struck in the Senate’s unanimously passed bill between civil liberties protection and law enforcement needs. Specific issues of concern in the conference report as signaled by Senators include:
· The inclusion of seven-year sunsets on controversial Patriot Act provisions instead of four-year sunsets.
· Lack of Judicial regulations on particular surveillance activities.
· The requirement that the government notify the target of a sneak and peek search no later than 30 days after the search rather than within seven days, as the Senate bill provides.
“If further changes are not made, we will work to stop this bill from becoming law,” the six Senators wrote to the Patriot Act reauthorization conferees. A major point of contention is the sunset dates on the controversial Patriot Act provisions that will run out in December. The White House and some Congressional leaders have advocated that the renewed provisions be kept in tact for at least seven years. However, a large bipartisan bloc of lawmakers wants the provisions to expire in four years. The House initially extended the provisions for ten years but later voted to accept the Senate’s four-year extensions. “There ought to be a four year sunset so we can review it again in reasonably timely fashion”, said Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA).
With Congress on Thanksgiving recess for the next two weeks, lawmakers will have to work out their differences over the Patriot Act in December, in a rush to beat its expiration date.