Posted Nov. 17, 2005 – After months of harsh debates, Congressional negotiators struck a deal on the expiring Patriot Act that Democrats and civil libertarians say does little to change the existing law, which increases law-enforcement power and limits individual privacy.
Under the tentative deal, still officially under wraps, judges would be granted authority to review and reject national security letters under which government can gain access to any individual's phone, Internet and financial records.
The agreement represents a significant and somewhat surprising victory for the Bush administration in maintaining the government's expanded powers to investigate, monitor and track terror suspects.
''It gives a nod toward checks and balances without fixing the most fundamental flaws in the Patriot Act," Lisa Graves of the American Civil Liberties Union told The Associated Press.
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Civil rights advocates and Democrats call the deal an "unacceptable" retreat from promised restrictions on the government's sweeping anti-terrorism powers.
The agreement ensures the extension of all 16 provisions of the law that were set to expire in six weeks. Fourteen will be extended permanently, and the remaining two -- dealing with the government's demands for business and library records and its use of roving wiretaps -- will be extended for seven years.
The agreement also includes a seven-year extension of a separate provision on investigating "lone wolf" terrorists.
This deal represents a compromise between the versions of the bill passed earlier this year by the House and the Senate. The House had voted to extend the provisions by 10 years, but the Senate moved to extend the powers by four years, The Associated Press reported.
The deal reached by negotiators does include some new restrictions on the government's powers, including greater public reporting and oversight of how often the government is demanding records and using various investigative tools.
"This is a bad bill," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview with The New York Times. "These are cosmetic changes that do little to change the Patriot Act from the way it was passed four years ago."
The tentative agreement, which would make most provisions of the existing law permanent, was reached just before dawn Wednesday. By midmorning, GOP leaders already had made plans for a House vote Thursday and a Senate vote by the end of the week. That would put the centerpiece of President Bush's war on terrorism on his desk a month before a dozen or more provisions were set to expire.
Officials negotiating the deal described it on condition of anonymity because the draft is not official and has not been signed by any of the 34 conferees, AP reported.
In revising the law, lawmakers told AP that they tried to find the nation's comfort level with expanded law enforcement power in the post-Sept. 11 era – a task that carries extra political risks with midterm elections next year.
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