Reporting From Washington— The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to extend expiring provisions of the Patriot Act for four years despite objections of a coalition of conservatives and liberals.
Because of the Obama administration’s strong support for the anti-terrorism law, a bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate is expected to finish the legislation this week, keeping the provisions in force. They are scheduled to expire Friday.
“It is essential to avoid any hiatus in these critical authorities,” the White House said in a statement.
The law has troubled civil libertarians and conservatives since its enactment after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The debate has drawn interest from the “tea party” movement, whose supporters argue that the law gives the government too much authority to spy on terrorism suspects.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) led opposition on the Senate floor Monday, arguing that the provisions allow the government to peer too deeply into Americans’ private lives. He questioned the wisdom of trading privacy for national security.
“We cannot give up our liberty. If we do, if we trade it for security, we’ll have neither,” Paul said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, defended the provisions as needed by law enforcement to investigate terrorism suspects — especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden, when threats may increase.
“This is a time when our vigilance must be heightened,” Feinstein said.
The sections of the law expiring Friday include the so-called roving wiretap provision, which allows investigators to continue eavesdropping even when a suspect switches phones.
Another section, known as the library records provision, allows authorities to conduct broad investigations of personal records. And a so-called lone-wolf provision allows the government to track foreign terrorism suspects even if they are not linked to a known terrorist group.
In all cases, a court order is required for monitoring.
The Senate voted 74-8 to advance the bill, with four Democrats, three Republicans and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont opposed. A final Senate vote was expected later in the week.