House approves Senate Patriot Act bill, sends to White House

The House on Thursday night approved the Senate version of the Patriot Act extension bill, a clean extension of three surveillance authorities until June 1, 2015.

The House finished voting at about 7:50 p.m., and approved the measure on a 250-153 vote. In the final vote, 54 Democrats voted for it, along with all but 31 Republicans.

The hastily arranged debate happened just minutes after the Senate approved the same bill by a 72-23 vote. With the House vote, the White House is expected to be able to approve it Thursday night with the help of an automated presidential signature, as President Obama is still in Europe.

House members rushed to approve the bill before three surveillance authorities expired at midnight, but spent some time debating it, even though the debate covered mostly familiar ground. Democrats generally opposed the bill, calling it something that would extend the government’s invasion of privacy.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said the death of Osama bin Laden in particular means the three authorities should be reconsidered.

“At a time like this, we should re-examine the restoration of our constitutional protections,” he said. “This is the type of government intrusion which the Bill of Rights was designed to prevent.”

The legislation would extend the ability of U.S. intelligence authorities to conduct roving wiretaps, gain access to business records and survey “lone-wolf” operators, non-U.S citizens believed to be acting alone to commit terrorist acts.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) argued Thursday night that there are problems with each of those authorities.

On roving wiretaps, he said officials do not have to identify the person being watched, which he said seems like a “clear violation of the Fourth Amendment,” which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. Regarding business records, he said the provision lets the government access records without having to show a “meaningful nexus” between the items gathered and terrorist activity.

And he questioned the importance of the lone-wolf provision, given government testimony that it has never been used. “According to government testimony, this provision has never been used, yet we are told it is vital that it remain on the books,” he said.

Republicans, as they have in the past, rejected these arguments by saying the provisions adequately protect U.S. rights. “We need to ensure our security … and we also need to ensure our civil liberties, and I believe that measure does just that,” House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said.

“The terrorist threat will not sunset at midnight, and neither should our national security laws,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) added.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) specifically defended the unused lone wolf provision by saying this authority might be used more in the future, especially in light of bin Laden’s death.

“While the lone wolf provision has yet to be used, it is an important provision that recognizes the growing threat of individuals who may subscribe to radical or violent beliefs but do not clearly belong to a specific terrorist group,” he said.

While Democrats said the death of bin Laden reduces the need for the Patriot Act authorities, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said bin Laden’s death only happened because of the intelligence network the U.S. created in the days and weeks after 9/11.

“One of the lessons of our successful mission being executed against Osama bin Laden is that you need actionable intelligence over a long range of time that you can connect together with analysis to give you the information that you need,” he said. “It doesn’t fall from heaven. It doesn’t come like manna. You have to go get it.”

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