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Debate Intensifies Over Renewal of Patriot Act

U.S. politicians, law enforcement and civil liberties experts are debating the Patriot Act, the controversial legislation passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

Shortly after September 11th, a bipartisan Congress overwhelmingly passed the Patriot Act, legislation that gave law enforcement officers broader powers to track and detain terror suspects and to allow secret immigration proceedings.

Sixteen provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire at the end of this year, unless Congress votes to renew them.

President Bush is urging Congress to not only renew the provisions, but to make them permanent.

President Bush stated that, "The act that has worked, the act that has delivered good results, or given people tools to deliver results, is now set to expire. Doesn't make sense to me, that if something is working, why should it expire? We need to renew the Patriot Act. We need to renew the Patriot Act because it has strengthened our national security."

President Bush says the legislation helped authorities break up terrorist cells in four U.S. states and charge people who provided support to al-Qaida.

He credits the Act with allowing law enforcement and intelligence gatherers to share information.

Mr. Bush said,” Can you believe our system didn't allow parts of the FBI to share information? For example, if the intelligence groups had a piece of information, they couldn't share it with the law enforcement people. That doesn't make any sense. So the Patriot Act enabled us to tear down walls."

However, civil rights' groups say the Act weakens civil liberties and unfairly targets immigrant populations.

On Capitol Hill Friday, Amnesty International USA's Chip Pitts spoke out against the Patriot Act. "The mere existence of such measures has a chilling effect on fundamental freedoms including speech and association, religion and belief, privacy, due process and equal protection. These are U.S. constitutional rights but they're also binding international treaty obligations."

Carlina Tapia-Ruano, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says innocent immigrants are being caught up in the hunt for terrorists.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association is deeply troubled by some of the provisions that are found in the Act, such as section 411 of the Act which expands the grounds of removeability and deportability for individuals that engage in conduct we believe is constitutionally protected."

President Bush says that the Patriot Act respects constitutional rights, saying it allows law enforcement to use the same tools to track terrorists that it uses to track other criminals.

Mr. Bush said, "If it is okay to use a certain tool to track a drug lord, we ought to be able to use that same tool to track a terrorist."

Some members of Congress are working to expand the Patriot Act, to give the FBI additional powers to track suspected terrorists.

A Washington Post/ABC poll earlier this month indicates that 59 percent of Americans polled believe the FBI should continue to have investigative powers, such as those granted by the existing Patriot Act.