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Patriot Act extension runs into conservative opposition

'Tea party' adherents in the House, like civil libertarians, chafe at parts of the anti-terrorism law that reach into people's privacy.

February 07, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — A House GOP push to permanently extend expiring provisions of the Patriot Act is running into opposition from conservative and "tea party"-inspired lawmakers wary of the law's reach into private affairs.

Enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the law makes it easier for federal authorities to conduct surveillance on terrorism suspects. Civil libertarians have long fought the measure, often drawing support from Democratic allies in Congress.

But as the Republican-led House prepares to vote Tuesday for a short-term extension of provisions expiring at the end of this month, some rank-and-file Republicans are signaling they will resist efforts later this year to make the law permanent.

"There need to be sunsets on the bill after that in order to have adequate accountability and oversight," said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). "Until sunsets come up, it is often difficult to get the answers we need to do necessary oversight to avoid abuses."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican in tea party-strong Utah, has not decided how he will vote Tuesday.

Tea party adherents prefer a smaller federal government, creating common cause on this issue with civil libertarians who object to expanded surveillance powers for federal authorities.

The three most contested provisions of the Patriot Act expire on Feb. 28, and the White House has worked with congressional leaders to secure an extension through December 2013. The Democratic-led Senate is considering legislation to do so.

The House GOP, though, is seeking to pass a shorter extension, to Dec. 8, 2011.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), author of the original bill, is seeking a permanent extension, and GOP leaders in the Senate unveiled similar legislation last week.

"These three provisions have helped thwart countless potential attacks since the bill was signed into law and are critical to helping ensure law officials can keep our nation safe from attack," Sensenbrenner said.

The three provisions up for renewal have long raised objections from civil libertarians, including the so-called library provision, which allows federal investigators, with a judge's approval, to access a wide cache of a suspect's personal information, including library records.

Another expiring provision allows the government to conduct court-approved roving wiretaps of terrorism suspects as they change phones or locations. A third is the "lone wolf" provision that enables authorities to conduct surveillance on foreign terrorism suspects who do not appear to be affiliated with known groups.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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