Legislation Renewing Patriot Act Stalls

By JESSE J. HOLLAND
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 17, 2005; 9:04 PM

WASHINGTON -- Legislation reauthorizing the Patriot Act stalled Thursday as lawmakers worked to satisfy senators upset by the elimination of some civil liberties protections.

Negotiators had worked for days to develop an acceptable compromise and presented a draft to senators and representatives late Wednesday.

But senators on the negotiating committee have yet to agree to the compromise, aware that six Republicans and Democrats are threatening to block the final version of the bill when it comes to the full Senate.

"If further changes are not made, we will work to stop this bill from becoming law," the six wrote the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

The senators are Republicans Larry Craig of Idaho, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Ken Salazar of Colorado.

Congress is facing two deadlines. Lawmakers want to leave before week's end for Thanksgiving and many parts of the Patriot Act are to expire by year's end if Congress does not renew them.

The Republican-controlled House hoped to approve the compromise on Friday. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told senators on Thursday that they will have to address the legislation "before we leave."

But Feingold, D-Wis., the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001, said there are several different delaying tactics available to stop the bill in the Senate.

Feingold said he had cleared his schedule through Thanksgiving. "And this time I don't think I'll be alone," he said.

Added Murkowski: "We have worked too long and too hard to allow this conference report to eliminate the modest protections for civil liberties that were agreed to unanimously in the Senate."

The six senators were the sponsors of legislation this year that would have tempered the powers of the post-Sept. 11 law that expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers.

They complained that the House-Senate compromise would take back some civil liberty protections on which senators had agreed. They include changing a Senate requirement that the government inform targets of a "sneak and peek" search warrant within seven days to 30 days.

Such warrants allow police to conduct secret searches of people's homes or businesses and inform them later.

The compromise also removed a Senate proposal that would have mandated judicial reviews when authorities used the law to search financial, medical, library, school and other records, according to the six senators.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he was working to address some of the complaints.

The tentative compromise would make permanent most parts of the Patriot Act. It would set seven-year limits on rules on wiretapping, obtaining business records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and standards for monitoring "lone wolf" terrorists who may be operating independent of a foreign agent or power.

The draft also would impose a new requirement that the Justice Department report to Congress annually on its use of national security letters _ secret requests for the phone, business and Internet records of ordinary people.

Also part of the tentative agreement are modest new requirements on roving wiretaps _ monitoring devices placed on a single person's telephones and other devices to keep a target from evading law enforcement officials by switching phones or computers.


© 2005 The Associated Press