Obama signs surveillance law extension

US President Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama has signed into law three key provisions of the controversial anti-terror Patriot Act shortly before they were set to expire at midnight.

The White House said on Friday that President Obama used an “auto pen,” which replicates his signature, to beat the deadline and sign the Patriot Act extension, AP reported.

The US president, who is currently in France, said he was pleased the act had been extended.

“It’s an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat,” he said after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Obama acted shortly after the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate approved the bill overwhelmingly. It passed the House 250-153, hours after it cleared Senate 72-23.

The provisions empower the US government to use roving wiretaps on multiple electronic devices; and get court-approved access to business records relevant to terrorist investigations.

The third provision permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-US individuals who are not believed to be connected to any foreign power.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has leveled criticism at the increased surveillance powers of the Bush-era Patriot Act.

“Congress has once again chosen to rubberstamp the Patriot Act and its overreaching provisions. Since its passage nearly a decade ago, the Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans’ privacy and violate their constitutional rights,” said Laura Murphy of the ACLU in a statement.

The chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy, also argued that the so-called anti-terrorist law violates protections against unwarranted search and seizures.

“The extension of the Patriot Act provisions does not include a single improvement or reform, and includes not even a word that recognizes the importance of protecting the civil liberties and constitutional privacy rights of Americans,” Leahy said.

This is while the Republican leader in Senate, Mitch McConnell, said, “The invaluable terror-fighting tools under the Patriot Act have kept us safe for nearly a decade, and Americans today should be relieved and reassured to know that these programs will continue.”

According to a senior Justice Department national security official testifying to Congress last March, the US government has sought roving wiretap authority in about 20 cases a year between 2001 and 2010.

Moreover, Washington has on average sought warrants for business records less than 40 times a year.

This comes as the ACLU also points out that court approvals for business record access jumped from 21 in 2009 to 96 last year.

The organization argues that the Patriot Act has failed to draw a clear-cut distinction between investigations of those suspected of terrorism, and those who have not done anything wrong.


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