WASHINGTON – The Senate voted unanimously Friday to extend the Patriot Act, while placing curbs on surveillance by police.
Congress passed the legislation in the fevered weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, in an attempt to create a sweeping anti-terrorism tool.
The revised measure makes permanent all but two of the act’s most controversial provisions, 16 of which would otherwise expire in December.
It extends for four years a provision that allows federal agents to obtain warrants for books, documents and other items from such facilities as hospitals, businesses, libraries and bookstores.
The revised measure would allow agents to use warrants to confiscate unopened voice mail, get search warrants that are valid nationwide rather than just in a specified location aimed at an identified suspect or targeted at a specific telephone, and share foreign intelligence from surveillance and wiretaps.
Under the changes in the Senate bill, a judge would have to determine that requests to monitor any telephone, cell phone or computer used by a suspect were relevant to a national security investigation. It would require the government to demonstrate that a request for records from libraries and other facilities was pertinent to its investigation and that the documents were linked to a suspect or someone in contact with the suspect. In the current law, the government must only certify that it was seeking records for an investigation. The bill would require the FBI director or deputy director to approve efforts to obtain medical records, library reading lists or bookstore sales records.
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