Epic Fail in Congress: USA PATRIOT Act Renewed Without Any New Civil Liberties Protections
Yesterday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to renew three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, after the Senate abandoned the PATRIOT reform effort and approved the extension by a voice vote on Wednesday night.
Disappointingly, the government's dangerously broad authority to conduct roving wiretaps of unspecified or "John Doe" targets, to secretly wiretap of persons without any connection to terrorists or spies under the so-called "lone wolf" provision, and to secretly access a wide range of private business records without warrants under PATRIOT Section 215 were all renewed without any new checks and balances to prevent abuse. Despite months of vigorous debate, when PATRIOT renewal bills providing for greater oversight and accountability were approved by the Judiciary Committees of both the House and the Senate, Democratic leaders' push for reform fizzled in the face of staunch Republican opposition buoyed by recent hot-button events such as the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day and the shooting at Fort Hood.
The renewed PATRIOT provisions were originally set to expire on December 31, 2009, but Congress ran out of time last year and temporarily extended them until February 28th, this coming Sunday. The new extension is expected to be signed by the President before then.
The one silver lining? Despite a push by Republican leaders for a four-year extension, the renewed provisions are now set to expire in one year. So, although this battle's been lost, the effort to roll back PATRIOT's worst excesses is far from over. Thank you to everyone who took action to support PATRIOT reform this past year; we hope that you'll continue the fight with us in the next year.