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House approves renewal of Patriot Act

Critics voice concern over civil liberties





Justice and Rights
September 11 attacks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House voted by a wide margin Thursday night to renew expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the collection of antiterrorism measures passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The final vote was 257-171. The bill makes permanent 14 of 16 provisions in the act set to expire next year and extends two others for another 10 years.

Passage came with the specter of terrorism fresh in lawmakers' minds after another round of bombing incidents in London earlier in the day. (Full story)

The Senate is considering its own reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and the differences between the two versions will have to be hashed out in a conference committee in the coming months.

President Bush issued a statement commending the House on the vote, calling the Patriot Act "a key part of our efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people."

"The Congress needs to send me a bill soon that renews the act without weakening our ability to fight terror," Bush said.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- whose Justice Department gained significant investigative and surveillance powers under the act -- said in a statement that "the House has again provided the brave men and women of law enforcement with critical tools in their efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people."

But Lisa Graves, a senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the bill "flawed" and criticized GOP leaders for limiting amendments to the measure that would have addressed civil liberties concerns.

"History shows that the willingness to curtail America's freedoms during national challenges ultimately leads to regrets about betraying our fundamental values," she said in a statement.

Parts of the Patriot Act have come under fire from civil liberties advocates -- as well as some lawmakers on both the left and right of the political spectrum -- who say they provide law enforcement with sweeping powers that could be abused.

However, Bush and GOP leaders have pushed for renewal, insisting the act has been used judiciously and contains key tools needed to fight the war on terror.

In the final tally, 14 Republicans bucked Bush and the party leadership to vote against the Patriot Act renewal. Among Democrats, 43 supported it, while 156 voted no.

However, a number of top Democrats supported the bill, including five members of the party's House leadership -- Steny Hoyer, the minority whip; Robert Menendez and Jim Clyburn, the chairman and vice chairman of the Democratic caucus; John Spratt, assistant minority leader; and Rahm Emanuel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The ranking Democrats on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees -- Reps. Jane Harman and Ike Skelton -- also voted yes.

The final vote concluded a marathon House session that stretched late into the night, during which representatives considered numerous amendments to the Patriot Act renewal.

Lawmakers narrowly turned back an effort by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Virginia, to renew the expiring Patriot Act provisions for four more years, rather than making them permanent -- an amendment that drew spirited support from archconservative Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California.

Rohrabacher said he supported the Patriot Act in 2001 because of the threat faced by the country after 9/11, but only under the belief that once the emergency was over, "the government would again return to a level consistent with a free society."

"We should not be required to live in peacetime under the extraordinary laws that were passed during times of war and crisis. Emergency powers of investigation should not become the standard once the crisis has passed," he said, drawing applause from his colleagues.

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, who shepherded the bill through the House, said sunset provisions were not necessary because there was no evidence the Patriot Act was being misused and lawmakers could provide sufficient oversight.

He also said 13 of the 16 provisions up for renewal have not been controversial, including one allowing increased communication between the FBI and CIA.

"Why sunset legislation where there's been no actual record of abuse and vigorous oversight?" Sensenbrenner said.

In the end, the amendment failed, with 209 in favor and 218 opposed.

One amendment that did pass overwhelmingly requires the FBI director to personally approve any FBI requests for bookstore or library records of suspected terrorists. Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, it passed 402-26.

Provisions allowing federal law enforcement to obtain library and bookstore records have been among the most controversial parts of the Patriot Act. The House's reauthorization bill does not eliminate the library provision, but it does tighten the language outlining how it can be used.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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