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Thursday, February 02, 2006

House votes to extend Patriot Act

ABC NEWS is reporting that with time running out, the House of Representatives agreed on Wednesday to a second brief extension of key provisions of the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act while lawmakers try to settle differences over civil liberties.

First passed after the September 11 attacks, the act expanded the power of federal authorities on such fronts as wiretaps and secret searches. With a number of provisions set to expire on Friday, the House approved a measure on a voice vote to extend them until March 10.

The Senate was certain to provide its needed concurrence to allow more time to address concerns that the rights of law-abiding Americans are adequately protected, aides said.

The provisions had been initially set to expire on December 31, but Congress and the White House earlier agreed to push back the date until this Friday.

They did so after four Senate Republicans joined Democrats to block an earlier House-passed bill to permanently extend the provisions unless changes were made.

Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, one of the four Republicans, said he and others had been in discussions with the White House and expected to reach an agreement soon.

"We believe what we're offering is important and does not tie the hands of law enforcement," Craig said, providing no details.

One concern has been over the ability of the government to obtain an individual's private records in a probe of terrorism, even if, critics complain, the individual has no ties to terrorism.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said the bill, which was blocked by the Senate, would provide new safeguards and again called for its passage.

"I believe it is healthy to continue to debate the merits of the Patriot Act and to conduct vigorous congressional oversight … but it is also imperative that we not play political games with the vital tools our law enforcement and intelligence communities need," Sensenbrenner said.


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