After months of legislative wrangling, President Obama has signed a reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act into law. Had the government failed to act, a number of key provisions of the nation's counter-terrorism law would have expired on Sunday night at midnight. Instead, they have been extended for a year.
The reauthorization was enacted following Senate passage of the bill and a House vote 315 to 97 in favor of extending the necessary yet controversial provisions of the Patriot Act. At question were three tools which have been instrumental in the U.S. fight against terrorist organizations, both at home and abroad.
The three sections that will stay in force are:
- The authority to issue Section 215 orders and National Security Letters to seize records and property in counter-terrorism investigations.
- The use of roving wiretaps to conduct surveillance on multiple phones.
- Surveillance against lone-wolves, individuals engaged in terrorism who cannot be linked to a recognized terrorist group.
They were renewed without change, despite earlier attempts to gut the provisions and render them useless under the guise of civil liberties concerns.
The reauthorization of these provisions came despite the concerns of several Democrats and civil liberties advocates that the legislation failed to protect the rights of American citizens. For example, the American Civil Liberties lamented:
"Congress refuses to make reforming the Patriot Act a priority and continues to punt this crucial issue down the road. Once again, we have missed an opportunity to put the proper civil liberties and privacy protections into this bill. Congress should respect the rule of law and should have taken this opportunity to better protect the privacy and freedom of innocent Americans. We shouldn't have to live under these unconstitutional provisions for another year."
Despite these concerns, the renewal of these provisions is an indication that both Congress and the President recognize the necessity and efficacy of these national security tools. As Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) noted:
"Recent terror attacks, such as those at Fort Hood and on Christmas Day, demonstrate just how severe of a threat we are facing….This extension keeps Patriot's security measures in place and demonstrates that there is a growing recognition that these crucial provisions must be preserved."