Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 27, 2011

Patriot Act Extended

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 27, 2011

Following is a good example of why pay walls are going up all over the web.  I have — contrary to my stated principles — reproduced in full a Dow Jones news story.

When we take action contrary to our principles we usually convince ourselves there is sufficient cause, good cause, even a noble cause.  In this case I am probably being lazy and expedient.

Even when our rationalizations have some validity we almost always pay the consequences sooner or later in ways predictable or not.  I have not been a fan of Senator Rand Paul.  But in regard to the Patriot Act we should at least be giving close attention to his arguments. (Please see video and transcript of the Senator’s comments on two failed amendments to the Patriot Act.)


WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The U.S. House of Representatives voted to renew three key provisions of legislation granting law enforcement officials authority to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists.

The Senate voted earlier Thursday to approve the extension bill, after resolving a week-long impasse over the legislation.

The House vote was 250 in favor, with 153 opposed.

With the House vote, Congress has completed its work on the bill, but it must still be signed by President Barack Obama by midnight EDT Thursday in order to avoid an expiration of the three provisions. Obama is in France for a meeting of the G-8 group of nations. A White House spokesman said the president will use an “automatic pen” to sign the legislation into law.

All week long, the Senate has been in a logjam over attempts, primarily by a single lawmaker, Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), to amend the legislation. Paul, a self-styled libertarian, opposes the legislation and spent the last several days decrying it as an invasion of privacy.

As the deadline approached, top lawmakers and senior Obama administration officials began issuing stark warnings about the impact on the ability of the nation’s intelligence community to continue to do its job if the provisions were allowed to expire. James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a letter this week to Senate leaders there could be serious repercussions for law enforcement’s surveillance efforts if the measures expire.

The provisions are contained within the Patriot Act, a law passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that vastly expanded the abilities of law enforcement officials to conduct surveillance of suspected terrorists both in the U.S. and abroad.

Over the years, the legislation has gradually been more tailored, with some of its provisions allowed to expire and others made permanent.

But some of the authorities granted by the law require Congress to renew them. There are three such provisions in the legislation.

One would enable law enforcement officials to conduct surveillance on suspected individuals who switch communication devices, such as using disposable cellular phones. A second would let officials conduct surveillance on so-called “lone wolf” individuals–suspects not currently linked to any known terrorist organization abroad. The third would enable officials access to suspects’ business transactions–rental cars, hotel bill and other credit card transactions.

All three have been extended until June 1, 2015.

Ultimately, 22 senators joined Paul in opposing the legislation. The majority of those no votes were cast by liberals who are opposed to the continuation of the expanded authorities contained within it. Several of them, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had hoped to add language providing for further oversight and audits of the activities the law permits. This wasn’t allowed as part of the compromise reached Thursday, which sparked some of those no votes.

Leahy pledged to bring up the oversight language as stand-alone legislation soon.

Before they moved to a vote to finalize the legislation, lawmakers first had to deal with a Paul amendment that would have excluded gun sales from law enforcement officials’ ability to monitor business transactions.

Paul said this was a violation of individual rights protected by the second amendment to the U.S. constitution.

“It’s very important that we are eternally vigilant of the powers of government,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “I don’t think the government should be sifting through the records of gun owners.”

Even the National Rifle Association didn’t support Paul’s gun amendment. The organization didn’t oppose it outright, but chose to take no position on the issue.

The proposed change was easily defeated by the Senate


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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 2, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

The Patriot Act in all its guises has yet to be studied carefully by the US judicial system. SCOTUS yet to review in any depth!

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