Bush calls for strengthening the antiterror law, while critics worry about greater potential for civil-rights abuses.
In seemingly short order, discussion around the Patriot Act has shifted from defense to offense.
Just two months ago, when Congress set out to consider renewal of the antiterrorism law, civil libertarians were hopeful they could rein in aspects that they felt went too far. Now, supporters of an enhanced Patriot Act appear to be making headway as they push to give the FBI new powers.
Thursday, President Bush weighed in on the side of a beefed-up Patriot Act, including making permanent the 16 provisions set to expire at the end of the year and giving FBI agents new powers. In a speech at the Ohio Patrol Training Academy in Columbus, he called on Congress to renew the act's temporary provisions.
"For the state of our national security, Congress must not rebuild a wall between law enforcement and intelligence," he said.
Columbus, Ohio, was selected as the site for Bush's speech for a reason: It was two years ago that Columbus truck-driver Lyman Faris pleaded guilty to charges of aiding terrorism and conspiracy. Now serving a 20-year prison sentence, Mr. Faris allegedly met with Osama bin Laden in 2000 and provided material aid to Al Qaeda members. Faris was also accused of plotting to sabotage the Brooklyn Bridge and blow up an Ohio shopping mall.
According to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, the Patriot Act was instrumental in gathering information that led Faris to cooperate. The academy where Bush spoke was part of the joint terrorism task force that worked on the Faris case.
On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved legislation that would renew and expand the Patriot Act. One new provision would allow FBI agents to write subpoenas without going before a judge, under certain circumstances. The FBI would also gain expanded authority to monitor mail in terrorism cases.
Opponents of an enhanced Patriot Act are caught in a paradox that makes it difficult for them to prove that abuses have occurred, because of the secret elements of the law. Civil liberties advocates from both parties are concerned that people's rights are being violated without their knowing it, because under certain controversial provisions, organizations whose records have been seized are barred by law from informing the person under investigation.