WASHINGTON -- The House, overriding fears that Americans' freedoms are being
restricted, voted to make permanent provisions of the Patriot Act that gave
authorities more investigative power in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
Lawmakers voted 257-171 Thursday to make permanent 14 of the Patriot
Act's 16 sections that are scheduled to expire in December, rejecting the
civil liberties concerns of Democrats and some Republicans who wanted to limit
several provisions of the anti-terrorism law.
"Passage of this act is vital to maintaining the post-9/11 intelligence
reforms that have reduced America's vulnerability to terrorist attacks,'' said
House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the
bill's main author.
The other two provisions -- Section 215, which gives the FBI secret
access to people's business, medical, library, bookstore and other shopping
records, and Section 206, which authorizes so-called roving wiretaps --
would be renewed for 10 years as part of the vote.
Both sides in the debate said they were trying to find a balance between
civil liberties and security and said they didn't want to do anything to
undermine the country's fight against terrorists, whose apparent second attack
in two weeks Thursday on London subways and buses was a running subtext
through the House debate.
For its part, the White House again called on Congress to quickly renew
the 16 provisions, which were part of the much larger Patriot Act anti-
terrorism law passed a month after the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach (Orange County), said the
expiration provision on the 16 sections in the bill should have been renewed.
"These powers were not to be permanent,'' he said. "They were to help us win
the war, not become permanent.''
Section 215, in particular, has drawn fire from librarians and civil
libertarians who say it could let the government snoop on ordinary citizens
who aren't involved in terrorism investigations. About 390 local governments
and states, a few dozen of them in Northern California, have adopted
resolutions opposing the provision, along with other parts of the Patriot Act.
The vote came at the end of a long day in which the House of
Representatives debated some 20 amendments and the bill itself. But the
Republican-controlled Rules Committee barred votes on several other amendments,
including one offered by Rep. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont,
which was identical to a provision the House had approved June 15 as part of a
Justice Department spending bill.
The Sanders provision, which didn't become law, would have barred the FBI
from spending money to look into readers' book-reading records at libraries,
but would have given authorities access to Internet usage at libraries.
Sanders, referring to the earlier House vote, asked why the Rules
Committee barred a vote on his amendment this time.
"This is an outrageous abuse of power and deprives a majority of members
of the right to put into the bill what they want,'' Sanders said.
The House, however, voted 402-26 for a bipartisan amendment Thursday that
would require all requests for information from libraries and book stores to
be approved personally by the FBI director.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously adopted its version of the
Patriot Act rewrite Thursday with a provision that says Section 215 orders
would have to be approved by the FBI director or deputy director. The bill
would further limit warrants under the section by requiring that the FBI show
a judge how its request for information pertains to a known or suspected agent
of a foreign power or their associates.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., would force the records search and roving wiretap
provisions to expire in four years unless approved again by Congress.
The Senate bill also places further limits on secret "sneak and peak''
warrants and administrative subpoenas that can be carried out without a
All of the Senate bill's differences with the House bill will have to be
ironed out before a final bill is sent to President Bush.
Lisa Graves, the American Civil Liberties Union's senior counsel for
legislative strategy, said the House bill, by making the provisions "a
permanent presence in our lives," increases the risk that these investigative
tools will be used improperly -- especially for criminal cases not connected
to terrorism -- and reduces the ability of Congress and others to learn
Graves said the bill weakens constitutional protections against
unwarranted searches -- and limits the typical avenues to challenge those
searches in court.
"History shows that the willingness to curtail America's freedoms during
national challenges ultimately leads to regrets about betraying our
fundamental values,'' she said.
The House bill's 10-year expiration of the two provisions, called a
sunset provision, drew fire from Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking
Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
"I support the majority of the 166 provisions of the Patriot Act," but
the 10-year extension lessens accountability, Conyers said.
"Ten years is not a sunset. Ten years is semipermanent," he said.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, said she suspected ulterior motives behind
the 10-year sunset.
"Now we know the truth. The Patriot Act was never intended as an
emergency measure. ... It appears its sponsors were always interested in a
permanent crackdown on civil liberties,'' she said.
Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Folsom (Sacramento County), who authored the 10-year
extensions, said critics of the law have never produced real evidence of abuse
by federal authorities. The critics dispute that contention.
Lungren, a former California attorney general, said the two expiration
dates were included "because it was an indication to the public that we will
do effective oversight.''
The brief debate at the Senate Judiciary Committee mirrored that in the
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, "I'm against sunsets. ... In this age of
terrorism, we're going to need every good tool we can get, and I don't want to
see those good tools sunsetted.''
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., countered, "There's still a lot of uneasiness
in Middle America about this legislation, and we ought to pay attention to
that. A lot of things we do here should be sunsetted.''
Sensenbrenner rebutted allegations that his committee hadn't paid close
enough attention to the Bush administration's use of the Patriot Act. He
produced a two-foot stack of documents of 12 Judiciary Committee hearings this
year that heard 35 witnesses.
"The inspector general's report found no civil liberties violations under
the Patriot Act," Sensenbrenner said. "There is no actual record of abuse."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said that 90 percent
of the Patriot Act is noncontroversial, but that she hopes House-Senate
conferees come up with a better final version, "and that when it returns here,
we will all be able to support it.''
Forty-three Democrats joined 214 Republicans in favor of the House bill.
Fourteen Republicans voted no, as did 156 Democrats and Sanders, the lone
All of the Bay Area Democrats voted against the bill. Republican Rep.
Richard Pombo of Tracy was the only Bay Area House member to support the bill.
© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle