Correction to This Article
In some June 16 editions, a headline on an article about a House vote on the USA Patriot Act incorrectly said that the measure would halt the FBI's power to seize library records. The House voted only to curtail such power.

House Votes To Curb Patriot Act

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By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 16, 2005

The House handed President Bush the first defeat in his effort to preserve the broad powers of the USA Patriot Act, voting yesterday to curtail the FBI's ability to seize library and bookstore records for terrorism investigations.

Bush has threatened to veto any measure that weakens those powers. The surprise 238 to 187 rebuke to the White House was produced when a handful of conservative Republicans, worried about government intrusion, joined with Democrats who are concerned about personal privacy.

One provision of the Patriot Act makes it possible for the FBI to obtain a wide variety of personal records about a suspected terrorist -- including library transactions -- with an order from a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, where the government must meet a lower threshold of proof than in criminal courts.

Under the House change, officials would have to get search warrants from a judge or subpoenas from a grand jury to seize records about a suspect's reading habits.

Some libraries have said they are disposing of patrons' records more quickly because of the provision, which opponents view as a license for fishing expeditions.

House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (Ohio), one of three House Republicans who opposed the Patriot Act when it was enacted in 2001, voted yesterday to curtail agents' power to seize the records.

"Everybody's against terrorism, but there has to be reason in the way that we fight it," Ney said. "The government doesn't need to be sifting through library records. I talked to my libraries, and they felt very strongly about this."

The Justice Department said in a letter to Congress this week that the provision has been used only 35 times and has never been used to obtain bookstore, library, medical or gun-sale records. It has been used to obtain records of hotel stays, driver's licenses, apartment leases and credit cards, the letter said.

"Bookstores and libraries should not be carved out as safe havens for terrorists and spies, who have, in fact, used public libraries to do research and communicate with their co-conspirators," Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella said in the letter.

The vote -- on an amendment to limit spending in a huge bill covering appropriations for science as well as the departments of Justice, State and Commerce -- came as Bush is traveling the country to build support for reauthorizing 15 provisions of the Patriot Act that are scheduled to expire at year's end.

House Republican leadership aides said they plan to have the provision removed when a conference committee meets to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. "The administration has threatened to veto the bill over this extraneous rider, and there are too many important initiatives in the bill for that to happen," said Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield.

Last year, the House leadership barely staved off the amendment with a 210 to 210 tie, engineered by holding the vote open to pressure some Republicans to switch their votes.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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