House to take up Patriot Act again

Feb. 10, 2011 at 4:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- House Republicans are poised to extend the FBI's right to eavesdrop on terror suspects, two days after failing to get the two-thirds majority needed.

This time, bill to extend the USA Patriot Act's wiretap provision and two others will be brought up by GOP leaders under a rule permitting passage by a simple majority, said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Invoking the rule would likely mean the wiretap measure would pass, The Washington Post said. On Tuesday, 277 lawmakers supported the measure, well more than half the chamber's members, but not enough for the two-thirds needed for passage under fast-track rules.

Lawmakers may not vote on the bill Thursday because they will first debate rules governing debate on it. But a House Republican leadership aide told the Post GOP leaders expected the bill would move forward "in the coming days."

The three provisions that would be extended through December will expire Feb. 28 unless Congress acts. Even if the House passes its version next week, the Senate would have to approve it too.

Key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said next Thursday is the target date by which the upper chamber must act for the provisions to be extended.

The measure would let the FBI continue using roving wiretaps to secretly listen in on terror suspects. It would also let authorities have access to "any tangible items," such as library records, during surveillance and let them spy on suspects not connected to an identified terrorist group.

The act, signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush Oct. 26, 2001, dramatically reduced restrictions on law-enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone calls, e-mail communications, and medical, financial and other records.

It also eased restrictions on foreign intelligence-gathering in the United States, expanded the U.S. treasury secretary's authority to regulate financial transactions made by foreign individuals and entities, and broadened law-enforcement and immigration authorities' discretion in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts.

The act -- whose formal name is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 -- also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism.

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