Senate Dems look to one-year extension of key provisions in the Patriot Act

Senate Democrats are pushing for a short-term extension of key provisions in the Patriot Act as part of a package of must-pass measures.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is planning to ask for unanimous consent to pass an extension for a host of measures set to expire February 28, according to Senate sources. The request could be made as early as Tuesday night.

The large package of bills includes a year-long extension of three provisions of the anti-terrorism law known a the Patriot Act, as well as extensions for expiring tax provisions, including unemployment insurance, COBRA, flood insurance, the law governing the highway trust fund, the federal flood insurance program and a measure governing satellite television signals.

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Democrats in Congress have faced a tough time renewing the Patriot Act provisions, which grant broad counter-terrorism powers to the executive branch. Senate Democrats included a one-year extension of the Patriot Act provisions in its jobs bill, but Reid jettisoned that larger measure in favor a smaller jobs bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill last October that would extend key provisions of the Patriot Act but add new restrictions on FBI demands for records from U.S. businesses and impose new reporting requirements. Republicans have objected to placing any new restrictions on the executive counter-terrorism powers and have blocked the Judiciary Committee’s version of the bill.

The first of the three expiring Patriot Act provisions provides the power to seek court orders for roving wiretaps on terrorism suspects who shift their modes of communication. A second allows the government to seek orders from a federal court for “any tangible thing” that is says is related to a terrorism investigation.

The third provision allows the government to apply to a court for surveillance orders involving suspected “lone wolf” terrorists who do not necessarily have ties to a larger organization.

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