Congress last Thursday passed a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.
Following the 250-153 evening vote in the House, the legislation to renew three terrorism-fighting authorities headed for the president’s signature with only hours to go before the provisions expire at midnight.
With Obama currently in France, the White House said the president would use an autopen machine that holds a pen and signs his actual signature. It is only used with proper authorization of the president.
The measure would add four years to the legal life of roving wiretaps — those authorized for a person rather than a communications line or device — of court-ordered searches of business records and of surveillance of non-American “lone wolf” suspects without confirmed ties to terrorist groups.
The roving wiretaps and access to business records are small parts of the USA Patriot Act enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But unlike most of the act, which is permanent law, those provisions must be renewed periodically because of concerns that they could be used to violate privacy rights.
“The Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans’ privacy and violate their constitutional rights,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington legislative office.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Udall of Colorado says that while there are numerous interpretations of how the Patriot Act works, the official government interpretation of the law remains classified. “A significant gap has developed now between what the public thinks the law says and what the government secretly claims it says.”