Senate Struggles to Extend PATRIOT Act

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The U.S. Senate is deadlocked over proposed changes in the USA PATRIOT Act. It must pass legislation extending several sections of the law before midnight on Sunday, May 31, or they will expire, forcing the government to shut down surveillance programs that it says it needs to protect the country from terrorism.

The deadlock occurred early Saturday, May 23, when proponents of the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 1123), which extends the PATRIOT Act for four years but includes important limits on surveillance, fell three votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate on the measure and move it to a vote. FREEDOM Act supporters then defeated an effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to pass a short extension of the current law. The Senate is now in recess, but McConnell said he will ask senators to return for a special session on Sunday when he will again attempt to pass an extension.

There is heavy pressure on the Senate to avoid blame for allowing the PATRIOT Act to expire. Reformers hope it will force McConnell to allow them to vote again on the FREEDOM Act. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill. McConnell has charged that FREEDOM Act supporters are jeopardizing national security by refusing to permit a short extension  

The American Booksellers for Free Expression has joined other members of the Campaign for Reader Privacy in endorsing the FREEDOM Act because it provides additional protections for the privacy of the personal information of all Americans, including their bookstore and library records.