Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Key PATRIOT Act provisions rejected in the House

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It seems miracles really are possible, even on Capitol Hill:

A measure to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act counterterrorism surveillance law through December failed the House Tuesday night, with more than two-dozen Republicans bucking their party to oppose the measure.

The House measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and required a two-thirds majority for passage, failed on a 277-to-148 vote. Twenty-six Republicans voted with 122 Democrats to oppose the measure, while 67 Democrats voted with 210 Republicans to back it. Ten members did not vote.

The measure would have extended three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire on Monday, Feb. 28, unless Congress moves to reauthorize them. One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access "any tangible items," such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third is a "lone wolf" provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

The vote came as several tea party-aligned members of the new freshman class had been expressing doubts about the measure.

That these wretched, illegal and explicitly unconstitutional provisions were finally abandoned (at least for now) is a surprise in and of itself, but that this was in no small part thanks to a sudden revolt by a decent number of Republicans is nothing short of astounding. And in a very good and refreshing way. Maybe there’s some hope for the Fourth Amendment yet.