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May 26, 2011

Obama Signs Patriot Act Extension

U.S. President Barack Obama has signed into law a four-year extension of parts of a controversial domestic surveillance law, just before the provisions were to expire Thursday.  

U.S. lawmakers raced Thursday to pass the extension to the USA Patriot Act.  Both the Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure by a wide margin Thursday evening.

President Obama, who is in Europe, authorized the bill to be signed by an autopen, a machine that holds a pen and signs his signature.

The three provisions that were extended allow authorities to use roving wiretaps, conduct court-ordered searches of business records, and conduct surveillance of foreign nationals who may be acting alone in plotting attacks.

The Obama administration had urged lawmakers to extend the provisions, saying without them, the U.S. is hindered in its ability to fight terrorist attacks.

The bill's passage in the Senate was delayed in large part because of the objections of a single senator, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul.  He said the surveillance measures go too far in violating privacy rights.  Other lawmakers, as well as civil liberties groups, have voiced concern about the measures.

The Patriot Act became law soon after the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida attacks against the United States, to enhance the powers of law enforcement agencies to track terrorism suspects.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.