The Patriot Act is up for review, but Obama is poised to keep several of its key national surveillance provisions.
Congress began hearings this week on the fate of the Patriot Act, which will officially expire Dec. 31. The subject of great controversy since its introduction in 2001, it might be renamed the Justice Act and lose a few of its less contentious provisions – but it appears likely to remain for a long time to come.
When still a senator from Illinois, President Barack Obama had criticized the law, which the Bush administration extolled as one of its great counterterrorism measures. But now the Obama administration has asked the House and Senate to extend three of the act's provisions, calling them useful tools. Liberal congressional Democrats are not pleased.
How the tussle is resolved has profound implications for how the US government, seeking to thwart threats from abroad, treats its citizens at home.
Those provisions allow investigators to use "roving wiretaps" to monitor suspects who may be trying to escape detection by switching cellphone numbers; obtain from third parties the business records of national security targets; and track "lone wolf" suspects who may not belong to a terrorist group but may be planning attacks.