WASHINGTON — The House on Monday agreed to a 10-month extension of three key law enforcement powers in the fight against terrorism that some privacy advocates from both the right and left regard as infringements on civil liberties.
The House measure, passed 275-144, would extend authority for the USA Patriot Act-related provisions until Dec. 8. Common ground must be found with the Senate before the provisions expire on Feb. 28.
Among the three provisions, one allows federal investigators access to a suspect's personal materials — including library records — with a judge's approval. Another enables the government, with a court order, to conduct roving wiretaps of suspected terrorists. A third enables authorities to conduct surveillance on foreign terrorism suspects who do not appear to be affiliated with known groups.
Last week the House, in an embarrassment for the new GOP leadership, failed to pass the same bill under an expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. Twenty-six Republicans joined 122 Democrats in voting against it.
Monday's vote drew 27 Republican no votes. But this time the bill was brought up under a procedure requiring only a simple majority for passage.
The main objections are to what critics see as unconstitutional search and seize authority and big government intrusions into private lives.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, argued that the courts had consistently upheld the constitutionality of the provisions and that if Congress fails to extend them, "we will forfeit our ability to prevent terrorist attacks." He said a temporary extension "is the only way to provide House members the time to study the law" and consider possible changes.
In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Thursday plans to bring before his committee a bill that would extend the three provisions through 2013 while tightening disclosure procedures.