US Patriot Act renewed

The House of Representatives passed the USA Patriot and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorisation Act of 2005 in a of 257-171 vote.

A new provision means the death penalty can be sought for terrorist offences that result in death.

In addition, a new crime of narco-terrorism has been added, which would apply a minimum prison sentence of 20 years to people who use drug profits to aid terrorism.

US President George W Bush hailed the enhanced investigative powers, describing them as an indispensable tool in fighting terrorism.

“The Patriot Act has enhanced information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence personnel, updated the law to adapt to changes in technology, and provided critical tools to investigate terrorists that have been used for years in cases against organized crime and drug dealers,” said Mr Bush.

The Patriot Act was enacted shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, and gave Washington unprecedented powers in dealing with and investigating terrorism suspects.

Sixteen provisions of the act are due to expire at the end of this year unless renewed by Congress.

The vote, held on Thursday, enshrined 14 temporary provisions and extended two that were due to lapse at the end of the year.

Voting was generally along party lines, with 44 Democrats in the Republican-controlled chamber supporting it and 14 Republicans opposing it.

Civil libertarians have strongly opposed the measures, which give law enforcement officials access to personal records, even though some of the more contentious aspects have only been renewed for 10 years.

Debate ran for 11 hours, during which Republicans used the latest explosions in London as evidence revealing the urgency for the laws to be renewed.

“Passage of the… act is vital to maintaining the post-9/11 law enforcement and intelligence reforms that have reduced America’s vulnerability to terrorist attack,” said Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner.

The measures give law enforcement officials access to educational, financial and medical records without having to show probable cause of a crime, as well as allowing police and prosecutors to access details of an individual’s Internet activities and correspondence without cause or consent.

While Republicans said there have been no documented cases of civil liberty abuses since the act was passed, Democrats said the government has requested individuals’ library records more than 200 times.