Deal reached on US Patriot Act

US Senators have voted to end a high stakes showdown with the White House and extend for six months key provisions of the controversial anti-terror Patriot Act set to expire in 10 days.

Bush says the Act is essential to prevent new terror attacks
Bush says the Act is essential to prevent new terror attacks

The temporary extension, approved without dissent, would provide time to try to resolve differences over safeguards for civil liberties before making permanent most of the provisions the Bush administration says is vital to guard against terrorist attacks.

“I’m not going to let the Patriot Act die,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said in explaining why he struck a deal after having earlier joined the White
House in opposing such a move.

Lawmakers who helped negotiate the deal just hours earlier voiced confidence that the White House and House of Representatives would give its needed approval despite earlier objections to such a short-term remedy.

“This is a common-sense solution that gives the Senate more time to craft a consensus bill that will promote our security while preserving our freedom,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a
Vermont Democrat.

“I’m not going to let the Patriot Act die”

US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist

“Agreements are always the product of time and place,” said Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, one of a handful of Republicans who had earlier joined most Democrats in opposing permanent
extension with a procedural roadblock.

Each side had accused the other of trying to score political points in the high-stakes showdown.

Responding to the vote, President George Bush said in a statement: “I appreciate the Senate for working to keep the existing Patriot Act in law through next July, despite boasts last week by the Democratic leader that he had blocked the act.”

Secret searches

Initially passed after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the Patriot Act expanded the authority of the federal government to conduct secret searches, obtain private records, intercept telephone calls and take other action in the effort to track down suspected terrorists.

Democrats and other critics have complained the law gave the government too much power to pry into the private lives of Americans and that proposed changes were inadequate.

Earlier on Wednesday, 52 of the 100 senators, including eight Republicans, signed a letter in support of a Democratic-led bid to extend provisions, set to expire on December 31, for an extension of just three months to provide time to settle differences.

Senate Republican leaders, who had opposed any such short-term deal, agreed to the six-month extension following increased efforts to find common ground.

Source: Reuters

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