October 8, 2009 | By Kevin Bankston

Obama Sides with Republicans; PATRIOT Act Renewal Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee Minus Critical Civil Liberties Reforms

Well, it looks like most of the Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee weren't swayed by this morning's New York Times editorial, which cited this morning's Committee meeting to consider USA PATRIOT Act renewal as a "critical chance to add missing civil liberties and privacy protections, address known abuses and trim excesses that contribute nothing to making America safer." Instead, the Committee just passed a bill to renew all of the PATRIOT powers that were set to expire at the end of the year, with only a handful of the original reforms that were first proposed by Senators Feingold and Durbin's JUSTICE Act and Committee Chairman Leahy's original PATRIOT renewal bill.

Instead of adding more protections to the bill, as EFF and the Times have been urging (along with many other Americans who have been organizing Facebook and Twitter activism around PATRIOT reform), the Committee this morning voted to accept seven Republican amendments to the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act to remove the few civil liberties protections left in the bill after it was already watered down at last Thursday's Committee meeting. Surprisingly and disappointingly, most of those amendments were recommended to their Republican sponsors by the Obama Administration.

After voting on amendments (vote counts and text of the amendments are now available on the Committee's web site), the Committee voted to pass the PATRIOT bill itself, 11 to 8. Some Democrats voted against it, agreeing with us that it didn't protect civil liberties enough, while some Republicans voted against it because of the few meager privacy improvements it did include.

Those who voted AYE:
Leahy, D-Vermont
Kohl, D-Wisconsin
Feinstein, D-California
Schumer, D-New York
Cardin, D-Maryland
Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island
Klobuchar, D-Minnesota
Kaufman, D-Delaware
Franken, D-Minnesota
Kyl, R-Arizona
Cornyn, R-Texas

Those who voted NAY:
Feingold, D-Wisconsin
Durbin, D-Illinois
Specter, D-Pennsylvania
Sessions, R-Alabama
Hatch, R-Utah
Grassley, R-Iowa
Graham, R-South Carolina
Coburn, R-Oklahoma

EFF extends its heartfelt gratitude to the only three Democrats who continually stood up for civil liberties throughout this process and ultimately voted no on the final bill: Senators Feingold, Durbin and Specter. We particularly thank Senator Durbin for doing his best to pass an amendment to reform the government's authority to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) for Americans' records without having to show any connection between the records sought to a suspected terrorist or spy, and Senator Specter for cosponsoring Senator Feingold's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to pass an amendment to let the so-called "lone wolf" wiretapping authority expire. We especially thank Senator Feingold for offering an amendment to stop the government from using last summer's FISA Amendments Act to conduct "bulk collection" of Americans' phone calls and Internet communications, even though that amendment was ultimately withdrawn and not voted on after procedural objections from Chairman Leahy. Finally, we congratulate Senator Feingold on the success of his amendment to require that the government "minimize" the records that it obtains with NSLs.

As for the others on the Committee, and especially the Obama Administration: you let down the American people today, undermining our constitutional rights and endorsing a bill that doesn't do nearly enough to protect our privacy. We look forward to taking this fight to the floor of the Senate.

To do that, though, we need the help of concerned citizens like you: if you haven't already, please contact your Senator now to support the reforms in the JUSTICE Act, which may still be attached to the bill when it is debated by the full Senate. This fight isn't over by a long shot.

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