US House and Senate leaders have reached a bipartisan backroom deal to push for approval of a four-year extension of the the most controversial components of the USA Patriot Act, in a move that rejects calls for responsible reform of the law by civil libertarians on the right and the left.
With prodding from the Obama White House—which has been working for months to secure a long-term extension of the Patriot Act—and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, there will be a full-court press in coming days to win Congressional approval for the extension of Patriot Act provisions that are set to expire May 27. But there will be opposition from both sides of the aisle to this bad bipartisanship. The toughest test will come in the House, where a coalition of Tea Party conservatives and united Democratic caucus could upset the rush to approve the extension.
It will be tough to block a lobbying push by key congressional leaders, especially in the Senate, where Reid and McConnell are co-sponsoring the extension proposal. But there is no question that there will be significant opposition to this assault on basic constitutional values.
As Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, says: “This agreement reeks of all the worst things about Washington: secrecy, back-room dealing, institutional co-optation, and bipartisan collusion to undermine constitutional rights. The death of Osama bin Laden offered the hope that our nation’s leaders might finally restore sanity to the national security establishment in the wake of mounting documented abuses. Instead, they insulated it from debate and rammed the Patriot Act down the throats of hundreds of millions of law-abiding Americans. I am, quite frankly, disgusted.”
1.) The government’s power under Patriot Section 215 to obtain secret court orders for “any tangible thing”—including Internet, phone and business records—that the government believes is relevant to a terrorism investigation.
2.) The government’s power to use non-specific “roving” wiretaps to monitor any phone number, e-mail account, or other communications facility that the government believes is being used by its target.