Top lawmakers cut a deal to extend provisions until 2015, dashing civil libertarian hopes as the Obama administration finds itself agreeing with Republicans
The future of the PATRIOT Act is rounding into shape, and, despite protests from civil liberties advocates, it's unlikely anything will change.
House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed today on a clean extension of three expiring provisions until June 1, 2015, according to senior Democratic aide. Unless an extension is signed by President Obama by May 27, the administration will lose its authority to conduct roving wiretaps, gain access to "any tangible thing" (including documents and records) during an investigation, and conduct surveillance on "lone wolves" not suspected of associating with any terrorist group.
A few months ago, it looked as if some of these authorities could be curtailed, or at least that Congress could renew them on a shorter-term basis.
In January, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill to extend the expiring provisions through 2013 but require Department of Justice audits and institute a sunset of the controversial National Security Letters provision, which is not set to expire this month and which grants the administration authority to request information about U.S. citizens from various entities, including Internet providers and phone companies, without obtaining court orders. Leahy's suggested that National Security Letters had been abused in the past and that greater oversight was needed; a sunset would afford Congress more scrutiny, and his committee approved Leahy's plan earlier this year. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), meanwhile, introduced her own bill, a clean extension through 2013. Senate Republicans had supported a permanent extension of all the provisions, without any strings attached.