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Deal reached to extend Patriot Act

Sen. Arlen Specter announces a compromise that will extend key provisions of the Patriot Act.



Patriot Act
Judiciary (system of justice)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional leaders reached a deal Thursday to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act, the government's premier anti-terrorism law. However, prominent Democratic senators said they opposed the compromise, and one threatened a filibuster.

Under the deal, three controversial provisions that expire at the end of the year will be extended for four years, Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced.

The controversial U.S. anti-terrorism law passed in the months after the September 11, 2001, attacks and expanded government surveillance powers. The deal marks Congress' first revision of the law.

"There's no doubt about the need for tools for law enforcement to fight terrorism both domestically and internationally," said Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who led negotiations on the Senate side. "But equally clearly there's been a need for refinement of the protection of civil liberties and civil rights."

Specter said the compromise bill was "not perfect" but "acceptable" and preferable to the alternatives -- the existing Patriot Act or no law at all.

Immediate opposition to compromise

However, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he opposed the compromise between the House and Senate leaders because it permitted the government to violate citizens' privacy rights without sufficient checks and balances.

Negotiations also excluded Democrats, Leahy said, which has turned renewal of the act into a partisan issue and undermined its credibility in the eyes of the American public.

"If this comes across as simply a partisan bill, do you think people in this country... will respect this legislation? They're not. They're not," Leahy said.

"This is simply seen as a fiat by one party or a small section of one party. It's not going to be respected," he said.

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat and the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001, called the agreement "a major disappointment" and promised to do "everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report."

"Merely sunsetting bad law is not adequate," Feingold said in a statement released after the agreement was announced. "We need to make substantive changes to the law, and without those changes I am confident there will be strong, bipartisan opposition here in the Senate."

Security vs. civil liberties

Negotiations had been stalled for months because of concerns that some provisions may violate civil liberties and give the FBI too much power to probe deeply into people's private lives.

After working around the clock, Senate and House negotiators agreed to extend controversial provisions for four years, instead of 10, which was a key stumbling block during negotiations between the two chambers.

The Senate version include a "sunset" provision that would let the act expire after four years unless the act was renewed. The House version had a 10-year "sunset" provision, but the negotiators decided to include the Senate's time limit.

The provisions include the two most controversial elements -- secret FBI access to library and business records and roving wiretaps.

Roving wiretaps involve the use of eavesdropping devices that prevent a target from evading law enforcement officials by switching phones or computers.

A "lone wolf" provision that sets standards for monitoring terror suspects who might be operating independently also survived.

Some congressional leaders were concerned that if the provisions were kept on the books for another decade, they would not have had an opportunity to review any possible civil liberties violations.

But the deal reached Thursday would force law enforcement to seek a court's approval before getting access to library and business records.

"Under existing law, a law enforcement agent could obtain these records, unilaterally, on a declaration of relevance," Specter said. "The conference report now requires a judge to review a statement of facts. And the court has to be satisfied that these records are relevant to a terrorism investigation."

Other aspects of the law, such as those that allow suspects to be held without access to lawyers, have prompted numerous legal challenges.

Lawmakers have said they are trying to find the nation's comfort level with expanded law enforcement power in the post-September 11 era -- a task that carries extra political risks for all 435 members of the House and a third of the Senate, who face midterm elections next year.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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