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Permanent Pat Act a done deal as Senate caves

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The US Senate has approved a new version of the so-called "Patriot" Act at last, by a vote of 89-10. After months of stalling and pointless posturing that made two temporary extensions of the previous version necessary, Senators knuckled down and gave the Bush Administration what it has been asking for all along.

Although the Senate did tack on a few cosmetic improvements, such as an exemption for libraries from warrantless searches and a provision allowing victims of national security letters to challenge in court the automatic gag order attached to them, the bulk of the Act's more objectionable provisions are now set to become permanent.

The Senate version is now close enough to the House version to be approved in the House and sent to the White House, where it is certain to be signed, most likely next week.

Apparently, there are only two possibilities in the minds of the Act's Republican backers: a powerful police state, or mass extinction at the hands of terrorists. As US Senator James Bunning (Republican, Kentucky) explained, "civil liberties do not mean much when you are dead."

Meanwhile, US Senator Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has spoken of holding hearings with a mind to creating new legislation that will undo some of the serious damage done to civil liberties and necessary checks on government power by the Pat Act.

Whether that will amount to more than a theatrical exercise might depend on how far Congress goes in investigating the Bush Administration's illegal domestic spying racket via the NSA. House Republicans are likely to turn that into a whitewash, so there's little chance that indignation will spill over into momentum useful for getting the Pat Act under control. Still, it could happen, and is an outcome worth hoping for, at least. ®

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