With a 73-23 vote, the Senate voted to approve a four-year extension of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act.
The AP reports:
It extends two provisions of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, one allowing roving wiretaps, the other allowing searches of business records in the pursuit of terror threats. A third provision gives the government power to watch non-American "lone wolf" suspects with no certain ties to terrorist groups.
All three provisions are viewed as valuable tools by law enforcement officials but are opposed by some who say they can lead to privacy rights abuses.
One staunch opponent of the extension was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Bloomberg reports Paul tried to delay the vote and tried to amend the bill.
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 AP reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said if the law was allowed to expire "we would be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected:"
In unusually personal criticism of a fellow senator, he warned that Paul, by blocking swift passage of the bill, "is threatening to take away the best tools we have for stopping them."
The legislation now moves to the House, which is expected to pass it and send it to the president for his signature.
Update at 6:45 p.m. ET. The Leahy Amendment:
Politico reports that a bi-partisan amendment from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) didn't even get a vote. The amendment "would have required greater congressional oversight of the anti-terrorism tools in the law."
Leahy briefly threatened to delay the final vote himself — an unprecedented move for the chairman tasked with shepherding the bill through the Senate. But he later backed off, vowing to introduce his amendment as a stand-alone bill.
"I do feel this really ruins the chances to make the Patriot Act one that could have had far, far greater bipartisan support, and we have lost a wonderful chance," Leahy said, "but I understand that we have to do what the Republicans want on this bill."