By Stephen Kopko
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON D.C., United States– In the midst of its expiration date, Congress renewed the United States Patriot Act this week without the proposed changes that passed the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Patriot Act was set to expire on Sunday. It was originally passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Since its passage the Patriot Act has been a source of controversy between groups that support greater privacy protections and groups that contend it is an important tool in protecting the citizens of the United States. In debates prior to passage of the legislation, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed greater privacy protections. It limited the F.B.I.’s use of national security letters as well as provided greater scrutiny of law enforcement agencies when they examined individual’s library records. The House Judiciary Committee passed similar provisions and also eliminated law enforcement authority to spy on the “lone wolf.”
Despite the greater privacy protections that were passed at the committee level, both the House and Senate voted to extend the Patriot Act for one year without the protections. Three provisions that were a source of contention and dismay for privacy rights advocates were renewed. Those provisions were the government’s ability to engage in court approved roving wiretaps, seizure property and assets, and the ability to spy on the “lone wolf.” Under the “lone wolf” provision, the government is allowed to track non-United States citizens that are not formerly affiliated with a terrorist organization.
The renewal of the Act without greater privacy protections comes after the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted Christmas Day bombing. Many members of Congress believed that its renewal without greater privacy protections was needed in the wake of those incidents. However, not all members of Congress believe that greater privacy protections would weaken law enforcements ability to track and prevent terrorist acts. They believed the protections are needed after the alleged abuses by Bush Administration. According to Representative Jane Harman; “While I strongly support using the most robust tools possible to go after terrorists, Congress must revise and narrow, not extend, Bush-era policies.”
Congress renewed the Patriot Act as the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on a provision of the Act that made it a crime to provide “material support” to terrorist organizations. The Court will examine whether the provision violates the free speech and freedom of association protections of the Constitution.
For more information, please see:
Washington Post-Congress extends Patriot Act, no new protections-25 February 2010
MSNBC-Senate votes to extend Patriot Act-24 February 2010
Christian Science Monitor-Supreme Court: Does part of Patriot Act violate citizens’ rights-22 February 2010