This was a vote on final passage of legislation extending expiring provisions of a controversial government surveillance law known as the Patriot Act (a law deigned to conduct surveillance on terrorists but which critics argued could be used against anyone). Those provisions—which were set to expire on February 28, 2011—included allowing the federal government to wiretap terrorism suspects, authorizing intelligence officials to conduct surveillance of individuals who are not known to be affiliated with terrorist groups (known as the “lone wolf” provision), and providing federal investigators—after receiving permission from a judge—with access to business and library records).
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) urged support for the bill: “I rise in support of these three provisions of the Patriot Act. I think it's very important that we extend them for a variety of reasons. The lone wolf provision, roving wiretaps, which have been in place for some time, we're not breaking any new ground here. Roving wiretaps have been used by local law enforcement for years in terms of dealing with drug dealers, organized crime. We're simply allowing those roving wiretaps to be extended to those who may be engaged in terrorist activities.”
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) also supported the bill: “As the Democrats choose to play politics rather than worry about the safety of our country, we're now under a time crunch. Only 4 legislative days, including today, remain for the House to extend these provisions before they expire and our nation is placed at a greater security risk. We can't let our guard down. These are needed provisions to keep America safe, and I urge the House to approve this bill today and urge the other body to act quickly to reauthorize these provisions. It's time to put politics aside and do what's right for America's national security.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) urged opposition to the bill: “The most flawed provision of the three provisions is the one I want to comment on briefly, and that is the so-called ``lone wolf'' provision--someone operating on his own and not particularly attached to anyone. This provision allows our full national security surveillance powers, which are designed to be used against enemy governments, to be used against a single individual who is unaffiliated with any foreign power or terrorist group….I come before you today to urge that we do not accept this measure. It is way too broad. And under the statutory definition, virtually any evildoer can be declared a ``lone wolf.'' So, ladies and gentlemen, let's be tough on terrorists. But let's describe this in a way that it will not be used in a way that will create fears that if we drop the lone wolf provision, the world may come to an end. I urge that this one provision is sufficient reason for us not to agree to the measure before us today.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (R-VA) also opposed the bill: “I am opposed [to the bill] because I simply do not accept the argument that, in order to be safe, we necessarily have to sacrifice our rights and freedoms. I agree with Benjamin Franklin, who stated during the formation of our nation: `They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.' One of the provisions in the bill reauthorizes section 215 of the Patriot Act, which gives the government power to secretly invade our private records, such as books we read at the library…There is no requirement to show probable cause or even reasonable suspicion of being related to a specific act of terrorism, and therefore, there is no meaningful standard to judge whether or not the material is, in fact, necessary.”
The House passed this bill by a vote of 275-144. Voting “yea” were 210 Republicans and 65 Democrats. 117 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 27 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House passed legislation extending expiring provisions of a controversial government surveillance law known as the “Patriot Act.”