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PATRIOT Act Extension February 8, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Politics.
Tags: , ,

Today the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass legislation which would have extended until December three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act which are set to expire at the end of February. The three provisions are:

1. “Roving Wiretap” authority, which allows government to wiretap multiple electronic devices used by a single suspected terrorist; 2. “Lone Wolf”, which allows the government to pursue warrants to conduct surveillance on non-U.S. citizens, engaged in ‘international terrorist activities’ alone; 3. A provision granting the  government access to business records relating to a terrorist investigation.

The legislation was considered under a suspension of the rules, which means that a 2/3 majority was required to pass the bill. Support fell 7 votes short of 2/3, so it failed. It’s important to understand that this bill will almost certainly pass the house in the coming weeks under regular rules which will only require a simple majority. For more on these special rules: wikipedia.

Some interesting things about this vote were that 26 Republicans opposed it, including Ron Paul (obviously) who was given time to speak on the floor in opposition to the bill by Democrat John Conyers, which is a rarity in today’s polarized political climate. True to its support for retaining the expanded executive powers the Bush Administration passed along, the White House supports an extension of these three PATRIOT provisions until 2013. It argues law enforcement needs a longer time horizon than 10 months to successfully operate (something which I’m in no position to dispute). The Obama Administration also quietly supported this legislation last year when Congress had to decide whether to extend these same provision for the year of 2010.

The standard analysis in the media of this vote is that it’s an example of the Republican leadership’s inability to maintain rank. The division within the Republican party among Tea Party members and traditional conservative ones has been a much hyped story line. Using this vote as an example of this division seems like somewhat of a stretch considering that a 2/3 vote was needed to pass. If this hadn’t been the case, and the bill passed under regular rules, the media would hardly mention the fact that 26 Republicans voted against. The Republican leadership miscalculated by bringing this up under suspension of the rules. Beyond that, it’s worth knowing that these provisions will be extended.

P.S. Even those that hate the USA PATRIOT Act must admit that its acronym is pretty damn impressive. It’s full name: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. Wow!


1. gary flack - February 9, 2011

You’re right! It used to be that conservative Republicans and ACLU Democrats had similar positions protecting individual liberty. Perhaps the same will occur when the bill comes up again.

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