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US Lawmakers Reach Deal on Extending Anti-Terror Law

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have reached agreement on extending controversial provisions of an anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act that were to expire at the end of the month.

The Republican-led House and Senate are expected to approve the compromise next week, despite some lawmakers' opposition because they believe the deal does not go far enough in protecting civil liberties.

Congressional negotiators backed the Senate version of the legislation, which calls for controversial provisions of the law to be extended for another four years, including ones dealing with wiretaps and court orders for records from businesses, libraries and book stores. The House had called for a 10-year extension.

Also under the deal, the government must notify people within 30 days after their homes or businesses are searched under a so-called sneak and peek warrant, which allows police to conduct secret searches of private homes and businesses and inform the owners later.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, expressed satisfaction with the compromise:

"We hammered out what I think is a good bill, not a perfect bill, but a good bill," said Arlen Specter.

Although the Bush administration wanted provisions extended permanently, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales expressed administration support for the compromise:

"It will result in continuing security for the United States, and also continue the protection of civil liberties for all Americans," said Alberto Gonzales.

But some lawmakers, including Congressman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, say they cannot support the legislation:

"The conference report is an irresponsible affront to civil liberties," said Jerry Nadler.

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, agrees. He says the legislation would give the government access to private records of citizens without having to demonstrate a connection between the records and a suspected foreign terrorist or terrorist organization.

"As it stands, the government can compel the production of business records merely upon showing the records were relevant, which is as broad a term as you can possibly imagine, to a terrorism investigation," said Patrick Leahy.

The Patriot Act, which expands the government's power to track suspected terrorists, was enacted shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says the Patriot Act has been a useful tool in cracking down on terrorism. He says in the last four years it has been used to charge more than 400 suspected terrorists and break up terrorist cells in New York, California, Oregon, Virginia and Florida.