Congress extends Patriot Act

WASHINGTON (AP) ?” Congress sent President Bush a second five-week extension of the Patriot Act as Senate negotiators worked to close a deal with the White House on renewing the anti-terrorism law with some new civil liberties protections.

“We need the Patriot Act,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. “I’m prepared to work on it further to improve it.”

Sixteen provisions of the 2001 law were to have expired last Dec. 31, but Congress extended them until Friday after Democrats and a handful of Senate Republicans demanded an avenue of appeals when the FBI makes demands for people’s financial and other private records.

The Senate voted 95-1 Thursday night to extend the current law unchanged through March 10 and give negotiators more time to reach a deal. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., a longtime opponent of the Patriot Act, cast the sole vote against the extension. The House passed it Wednesday.

Several Republican and Democratic officials involved in negotiations said that agreements had been reached on several issues but that others needed more time.

Earlier in the week, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, one of the negotiators who helped block the act’s renewal last year, told reporters almost all of his concerns had been worked out with the White House.

He and Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., want parts of the act to be rewritten in several areas, including giving banks, libraries and internet service providers the right to appeal when the FBI seeks financial and other records of their customers and clients.

Senate Democrats and four libertarian-leaning Republicans had blocked a final vote on a measure negotiated by the White House that would have made permanent most expiring provisions. The Republicans were concerned about excessive police powers.

The law makes it easier for federal agents to gather and share information in terrorism investigations, install wiretaps and conduct secret searches of households and businesses. At issue are 16 provisions that Congress wanted reviewed and renewed by the end of last year.

Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Conrad Burns, R-Mont., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., did not vote.