Civil liberty concerns lead to filibuster to derail legislation By Jill Zuckman Chicago Tribune Posted December 17 2005 WASHINGTON -- Amid bipartisan concern that Americans' civil liberties were endangered, the Senate on Friday rebuffed the Bush administration and blocked a controversial renewal of the USA Patriot Act, leaving open the possibility that 16 key provisions of the anti-terrorism law will simply expire by year's end. The law, whose fate remains unclear as Congress prepared to recess this weekend, was written in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to beef up law enforcement's ability to identify and hunt down terrorist suspects using roving wiretaps and "sneak and peak" searches of suspects' homes. It also removed barriers that had previously kept law enforcement and national security agencies from sharing important information. But a group of six Republican and Democratic senators argued that citizens' freedoms were being unnecessarily curtailed without adequate judicial review. They decried provisions of the law that allow what they contend are overly broad searches of records from libraries, doctors' offices and businesses without any suggestion of terrorist activity, as well as a gag order prohibiting suspects from talking about their cases. Their worries were given new credence Friday by a report in The New York Times that President Bush had in 2002 secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on hundreds of people inside the United States without court-approved warrants. The report described a highly classified program of monitoring communications between American citizens and individuals overseas who were suspected of having ties to terrorist networks. "I don't want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001. Senate Republican leaders argued that reauthorization of the act, which the House had already approved, provides essential tools for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to foil terrorist plots and zero in on terrorist cells. "We have more to fear from terrorism than we do from this Patriot Act," warned Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. But Frist was unable to get the 60 votes needed to quash a filibuster led by Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, John Sununu, R-N.H., Feingold and others. The vote was 52-47 in favor of cutting off debate, with five Republicans joining one independent and 41 Democrats to prevent the measure from moving forward. (Facing defeat on ending the filibuster, Frist also voted with the Patriot Act opponents in order to give himself the right to call for another vote later.) Florida's Republican Sen. Mel Martinez voted to end the filibuster; Sen. Bill Nelson voted to continue the filibuster. The Senate action dealt a sharp blow to the administration, which actively lobbied for the measure which would extend 14 of 16 expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and has prided itself on the Patriot Act and on its handling of potential terrorist activity since the early days after the attacks. It was the second day in a row that the administration had met defeat on a terrorism-related issue; on Thursday the White House reversed itself and agreed to a ban on the use of torture during interrogation of terrorism suspects, a measure sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Frist seemed uncertain how to resolve the Patriot Act impasse, but he categorically rejected an attempt by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to extend the existing law for three months while lawmakers work out differences on the reauthorization of the act. The majority leader also refused a second request by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada for a short extension, saying that Bush would not sign such a bill. "The president has laid down a pretty tough marker," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Specter also said he would not try to reopen negotiations with the House, adding that he does not believe the Senate can improve the legislation any further. White House spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that the president is committed to upholding the Constitution and protecting civil liberties. While officials said a failure to renew the law would be ominous, the impact was unclear. Under the law, investigators would still be able to use the expanded powers to complete ongoing investigations, and to launch new investigations before Dec. 31. But those powers would not apply for investigations beginning after the act expires Dec. 31. The renewal legislation would extend 14 of 16 sections of the law. Two of the most controversial parts of the legislation -- authorization for investigators to use wiretaps to monitor multiple phones and secret warrants for business records including ones from bookstores and libraries -- would expire in four years unless Congress renewed them. The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Co. newspaper. Information from the Los Angeles Times was used to supplement this report.