With Obama currently in France, the White House said the president would use an autopen machine that holds a pen and signs his actual signature. It is only used with proper authorization of the president. Minutes before the midnight deadline, the White House said Obama had signed the bill.
Congress bumped up against the deadline mainly because of the stubborn resistance from a single senator, Republican freshman Rand Paul of Kentucky, who saw the terrorist-hunting powers as an abuse of privacy rights. Paul held up the final vote for several days while he demanded a chance to change the bill to diminish the government’s ability to monitor individual actions. The bill passed the Senate 72-23.
Paul argued that in the rush to meet the terrorist threat in 2001 Congress enacted a Patriot Act that tramples on individual liberties. He had some backing from liberal Democrats and civil liberties groups who have long contended the law gives the government authority to spy on innocent citizens.
“The Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans’ privacy and violate their constitutional rights,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington legislative office.
– U.S. Congress Passes Extension of Patriot Act Wiretap Power (San Francisco Chronicle – Bloomberg):
May 27 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Congress yesterday approved, and President Barack Obama signed into law, a four-year extension of provisions in the USA Patriot Act that allow law enforcement to track suspected terrorists with roving wiretaps.
The legislation was first passed by the Senate, 72-23, followed by the House, 250-153. Because Obama was in France for meetings of the Group of Eight nations, he directed that an autopen machine, which holds a pen and replicates his signature, be used to sign the bill, the White House said.
The bill was signed yesterday before a previous extension, approved by Congress in February, expired at midnight, the White House said. The new law continues the surveillance powers until June 1, 2015.
The measure “will safeguard us from future attacks,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said before his chamber’s vote. “By extending this invaluable terror- fighting tool, we’re staying ahead” of terrorists who want to attack the U.S., he said.
The bill’s roving-wiretap section allows federal agents to obtain a single warrant to monitor telephone calls of suspects using a series of mobile phones.
Other provisions allow authorities to obtain business and library records, and to target so-called “lone wolf” suspects who aren’t affiliated with any terrorist group.
Senator Rand Paul, a bill opponent, tried to delay the Senate vote, pressing for the bill to be amended. The Kentucky Republican said the legislation goes too far in violating privacy rights to keep the U.S. secure.
“Do we want a government that looks at our Visa bill?” he said in a May 24 floor speech. “Do we want a government that looks at all of our records and is finding out what our reading habits are?”
The Patriot Act was passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, and many of its provisions are permanent law. Some of its surveillance powers have been opposed by some lawmakers and outside groups, including civil liberties activists..