Once again afraid to appear soft on terrorism, and evidence (if any was really needed) that the death of Osama bin Laden means nothing to the Beltway “War on Terrorism,” Congress passed a four-year extension of the Patriot Act Thursday night. President Obama, in Europe for the G8 summit, “signed” the bill with an autopen machine.
The post-9-11 legislation would have expired at midnight. Obama had “warned Congress that any interruption in the surveillance authority would threaten national security.”
FUD was not limited to the White House. Here’s Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI):
If Congress fails to reauthorize these laws before they expire, America’s national security and that of its citizens will be the most vulnerable in a decade.
The bill to extend the Act (S990 ENG – pdf) passed the Senate 72-23 (opposing: 4 Republicans, 18 Democrats, 1 Independent); the House, 250-153 (supporting: 196 Republicans and 54 Democrats; opposing: 31 Republicans and 122 Democrats).
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is particularly concerned about one of the three controversial portions of the bill, the business-records provision. The Obama Administration has accelerated the use of this provision: 21 requests in 2009, 96 in 2010. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court , of course, approved them all (modifying 43 in the process).
Wyden’s concern is rooted in the degree that government action is classified:
I draw a sharp line between the secret interpretation of the law, which I believe is a growing problem, and protecting operations and methods in the intelligence area, which have to be protected.
In addition, the extension maintains the government’s broad roving-wiretap powers.