Three Republican Senate leaders introduced a measure late Thursday that would permanently extend three key provisions of the Patriot Act, rather than let them expire not quite three years from now, as an alternative Democratic proposal would do.
The Republicans — Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader; Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top GOP member on the Intelligence Committee — described the changes as vital to national security.
“These three provisions are essential tools for our counterterrorism agents in the field. The threat of terrorism isn’t going away so we must provide our agents with the tools they need to get the job done,” Grassley said in a prepared statement. “Given that terrorist threats, including those from self-radicalized individuals, continue to evolve, we must ensure that our law enforcement agents are not burdened with new restrictions on existing authorities. We can’t afford to go back to a pre-9/11 mindset and tie the hands of our agents in the field.”
The measures at issue are roving wiretaps of terrorism suspects through phone and Internet records, the “lone wolf” provisions that can track a target regardless of affiliation with a specific group, and Section 215 orders allowing investigators to freely gather a suspect’s business records.
The provisions would otherwise expire on Feb. 28. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced an extension that would last until December 2013 for these three provisions last Wednesday.
The Senate will now debate which approach it will take on the Patriot Act, which has been at the center of a debate over how to balance national security against the right of privacy since it was enacted just weeks after the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001.