Patriot Act extension advances

Laurie Kellman Associated Press Feb. 17, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - The Senate pushed the Patriot Act a step closer to renewal on Thursday, overwhelmingly rejecting an effort to block it.

Passage is expected next month for extending the law that was passed weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a weapon to help the government track terror suspects.

The 96-3 vote Thursday was no surprise to Sen. Russell Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who was the lone senator to oppose the law 4 1/2 years ago and is the chief obstacle to extending 16 provisions now due to expire March 10.

The changes Feingold was seeking included an amendment that would set a four-year expiration date on Patriot Act provisions regarding National Security Letters, or demands made to banks, libraries, Internet providers and others without warrants for records of their customers or clients.

Another amendment would require the government to notify the subject of a secret search within seven days or obtain court permission to maintain the secrecy for a longer period. The bill would give authorities 30 days after a search before they had to notify the subject.

Under the deal struck with the White House to add more privacy protections, recipients of court-approved subpoenas for information in terrorist investigations would have the right to challenge a requirement that they refrain from telling anyone.

The bill would also remove a requirement that an individual provide the FBI with the name of an attorney consulted about a National Security Letter. A third change, supporters say, makes clear that most libraries are not subject to National Security Letter demands for information about suspected terrorists.

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