In a move that may signal a tougher battle ahead, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Wednesday to remove the Patriot Act provision that "allows federal agents to examine people's book-reading habits at public libraries and bookstores as part of terrorism investigations."
The vote was 238-187 – 38 Republicans joined 199 Democrats and amendment sponsor Bernie Sanders, (I) of Vermont, in supporting the repeal. The Washington Post reports that the vote was the result of conservative Republicans, worried about government intrusion, who joined with Democrats worried about personal privacy.
House Republican leaders are not accustomed to losing, and they did not hide their anger about the result. One aide to a House leader referred to the victorious coalition as 'the crazies on the left and the crazies on the right, meeting in the middle.'
The Associated Press characterizes the vote as a slap at President Bush, who has spent much of his time over the past few weeks campaigning for an expanded USA Patriot Act. The so-called "library provision" that the Congress voted to end Thursday is one of 16 that requires renewal by Congress.
But the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the victory for librarians and civil libertarians may "only be a temporary one."
The ban on the provision, which was defeated on a tie vote last year, was proposed by [Sanders] as an amendment to the annual Justice Department spending bill. The White House issued a statement threatening to veto the appropriations bill if its final version contains any language that weakens the Patriot Act. It's also unclear how the Senate will deal with the library provision ...
The Associated Press reports that the vote gives momentum to those in Congress who want to re-write or remove some of the more controversial provisions of the Act.
Still, the vote showed that worries about protecting personal privacy have increased since the Patriot Act was first passed, and it foreshadows a difficult debate about renewal of the act's expiring provisions.
"No question, this is a real shot in the arm for those of us who want to make changes to the USA Patriot Act," said [Sanders] ... He said the vote would help "rein in an administration intent on chipping away at the very civil liberties that define us as a nation."
The A.C.L.U. praised the results of the vote, saying that "It bodes well that the first vote Congress has taken on the Patriot Act this year has been in favor of liberty and freedom."
But supporters of the Patriot Act say the vote will make libraries a "safe haven" for terrorists.
"If there are terrorists in libraries studying how to fly planes, how to put together biological weapons, how to put together chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, ... we have to have an avenue through the federal court system so that we can stop the attack before it occurs," said Rep. Tom Feeney, (R) of Florida.
Although Mr. Sanders failed in his attempt to get the bill through Congress last year, The Brattleboro Reformer of Vermont reports that he was able to gain more support for it this time by making changes. For instance the FBI will still be able to search libraries' Internet computers. And law enforcement officials will still be able to see library record, but must gain approval from a judge first. Currently the Patriot Act allows the FBI to demand to see library records whenever they want.
Although the White House has threatened to veto any measure that "weakens" the Patriot Act, the Chronicle reports that there is broad bipartisan support in the Senate for a measure similar to the House one.
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R) of Wisconsin, who last week cut off the microphones of Democrats in his committee who were questioning the Patriot Act, said he is in favor of renewing the 16 provisions that are due to expire. But he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he is "admanantly opposed" to "giving federal investigators new powers to issue their own 'administrative subpoenas' without a judge's approval. Administrative subpeonas are one of the new powers that the FBI is seeking to add to the existing act.
"I think they have no place in a criminal or anti-terrorism investigation," Mr. Sensenbrenner said of administrative subpoenas. "Warrants that are used in aid of an investigation should have judicial review as early in the process as possible."
Sensenbrenner said he would support making only three of the "less controversial" provisions of the current act permanent. The others, such as obtaining business records and on roving wiretaps "could be modified or re-extended temporarily."
Sensenbrenner ... said the new powers approved by the Senate intelligence panel had no chance of inclusion in the House bill re-authorizing the Patriot Act.
Finally, an editorial in the East Valley Tribune of Arizona, suggests that perhaps renewing and expanding the Patriot Act is not what Congress should be focusing on.
The recent Justice Department inspector general report suggests the FBI had plenty of authority to stop some of the 9/11 hijackers but didn’t get its act together. It’s more important to reform these agencies so they can use the tools they have always had than to make new powers permanent.
Can patriots survive the Patriot Act? (IntellectualConservative.com)
Our books, our business? Sanders takes on the USA PATRIOT Act (The Book Standard)
The madrassa myth (New York Times)
Political lines blurred for Iran vote (Washington Post)
Feedback appreciated. E-mail Tom Regan
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