Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D‐Mont.) and the panel’s ranking member Chuck Grassley (R‐Iowa) have agreed on language to temporarily extend three Patriot Act provisions that would expire at the end of this month.
A draft of a Senate job creation bill includes provisions that would keep in place the Patriot Act’s “lone wolf,” business records and “roving wiretap” powers until Feb. 28, 2011.
The jobs bill is regarded as a top priority, and floor action is expected this month. A stand-alone Patriot Act renewal may be more difficult to achieve this month. The House and Senate have yet to iron out their differences on whether Congress should reauthorize all or some of the authorities.
The Senate Patriot Act bill would renew all of the powers. The House version would reauthorize the records and “roving wiretap” provisions but not the “lone wolf” authority, which the government has never used.
The Senate bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee last October and is awaiting floor action. The House bill, which won Judiciary Committee approval last November, is also awaiting floor action.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said he backs the Senate bill, but he hasn’t publicly commented on the House legislation.
Here is a summary of the provisions that are due to expire:
- Lone wolf: Allows government to track a target without any discernible affiliation to a foreign power, such as an international terrorist group. The provision applies only to non-U.S. persons. The government has never used it.
- Business records: Allows investigators to compel third parties, including financial services and travel and telephone companies, to provide them access to a suspect’s records without the suspect’s knowledge.
- Roving wiretaps: Allows the government to monitor phone lines or Internet accounts that a terrorism suspect may be using, regardless of whether others who are not suspects also regularly use them. The government must provide the FISA court with specific information showing the suspect is purposely switching means of communication to evade detection.