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US Senate Approves Renewal of Anti-Terror Law


The U.S. Senate has given final approval to legislation renewing the anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act for another four years. The 89 to 10 vote came after majority Republicans broke a two-month stalemate over the measure, prompted by concerns over civil liberties protections.

The Patriot Act - enacted after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks - gives federal authorities expanded powers to track terrorists.

Democrats and some Republicans had been concerned the legislation reauthorizing the law did not go far enough in protecting civil liberties, and had blocked the measure's passage since late December, forcing lawmakers to pass two short-term extensions of the current law.

Those concerns were heightened when it was revealed that President Bush had authorized secret eavesdropping of international phone calls and emails between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas. Many lawmakers questioned the legality of the program, which bypassed a special federal court whose approval is required under law for domestic wiretapping operations.

Responding to critics' concerns, Republican leaders, working with the White House, drafted an amendment to the Patriot Act legislation that seeks to limit somewhat the government's power to force people targeted in terrorism investigations to hand over information.

Under the compromise, for example, libraries would no longer be subject to National Security Letters, which are subpoenas for financial and electronic records that do not require a judge's approval.

The compromise was approved by the Senate Wednesday, clearing the way for Senate passage of the overall legislation Thursday.

President Bush, traveling in India, issued a written statement praising the Senate action, saying the Patriot Act is vital to the war on terror.

The comments were echoed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.

"We know that over 400 suspected terrorists have been picked up under this Patriot Act in New York, California, Florida, Virginia, Oregon," said Bill Frist. "It is an effective tool."

Still, a few lawmakers argued civil liberties protections in the legislation are not sufficient. Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat - who was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, was among the 10 lawmakers who opposed its reauthorization Thursday:

"I am disappointed in this result, obviously, but I believe this fight has been worth making," said Russ Feingold.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for expected passage next Tuesday. President Bush is to sign the bill before the current law expires on March 10.