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Patriot Act May Get Renamed, but With a Few Changes

by David G. Savage

WASHINGTON - The USA Patriot Act, a favorite of the Bush administration's fight against terrorism, may be renamed later this year as the Justice Act at the hands of congressional Democrats.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., holds up a copy of National Security Investigations and Prosecutions, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington during the committee's hearing on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) But the law, including its provisions that gave FBI agents more leeway to search computers and bank records, is likely to survive, albeit with changes to limit who can be searched.

"Security and liberty are both essential in our free society," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Tuesday in introducing a bill to extend three provisions of the law due to expire Dec. 31.

As a senator from Illinois, Barack Obama was a critic of the Patriot Act. Last week, however, the Obama administration asked Congress to extend the three expiring of its provisions.

The House subcommittee on the Constitution held its first hearing Tuesday on extending the Patriot Act. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman, said the law has "aroused a great deal of controversy and concern" but "remains a useful tool."

The provisions set to expire are not the most contentious parts of the law.

Far more controversial is the FBI's use of so-called National Security Letters to obtain financial records and computer information -- without the approval of a judge. That provision is not set to expire, and Leahy and Nadler said Tuesday they will not seek to repeal that part of the law but will press for changes.

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