WASHINGTON – The GOP-controlled Senate voted Friday to make permanent most of the expiring provisions of the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act (search).
Senators, however, set new four-year expiration dates on the most controversial provisions of the law, those allowing federal agents to use roving wiretaps and to search library and medical records.
The passage of the Senate legislation, which was by voice vote minutes before the chamber left for a month-long summer break, sets up a fall confrontation with the Republican-controlled House, which wanted 10-year expirations, or sunsets, on those two provisions.
The House and the Senate will try to negotiate a compromise bill to send to President Bush before December, when 16 provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire.
The roving wiretap provision allows investigators to obtain warrants to intercept a suspect's phone conversations or Internet traffic without limiting investigators to a specific phone or requiring them to identify the suspect. The records provision authorizes federal officials to obtain "tangible items" such as business, library and medical records.
"The Patriot Act is a uniquely valuable piece of legislation for this unparalleled time in Americas history, and its provisions will help keep us safe and defeat the hidden terrorist cells operating here in America," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (search) of Nevada said "like all compromises, it includes provisions that are not supported by everyone in this body. However, Democratic and Republican members of the Judiciary Committee came together in a spirit of cooperation and compromise to agree on this bill, and I strongly support it."
The Senate also had a competing Patriot Act reauthorization bill that had been approved by the Intelligence Committee, which would give the FBI expanded powers to subpoena records without the approval of a judge or grand jury. That bill was not approved, however, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., threatened on Friday to hold up a final House-Senate version if negotiators restore the expanded FBI subpoena powers.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the Senate bill approved Friday was "imperfect" but "a good starting point, and is vastly better than its counterpart passed by the House."