WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation to renew three expiring surveillance provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act won final congressional approval on Thursday.
The Republican-led House of Representatives passed the measure to extend the provisions for three months, 279-143, two days after it cleared the Democratic-led Senate, 86-12.
There's broad support for the provisions first approved after the September 11 attacks that expanded U.S. powers to track suspected terrorists. But there's concern these powers have been abused and that new safeguards are needed to protect civil liberties.
With these provisions set to expire in less than two weeks, the measure sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law would extend them through May 27.
That would allow law enforcement to continue to use these powers while Congress considers additional civil liberty safeguards and an anticipated longer extension of up to a year or so.
"I am disappointed that the Senate refused to agree to the 10-month extension approved by the House earlier this week," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican. "Repeated short-term extensions of these authorities create uncertainty for our intelligence agencies."
"The House and Senate will now have to move expeditiously to approve a PATRIOT reauthorization bill so we can hopefully avoid the need for another short-term extension," Smith said.
The expiring provisions authorize U.S. law enforcement to: obtain "roving wiretaps" on suspected terrorists who switch their mode of communications; track foreigners who may have loose ties to militants but are acting as a "lone wolf" in plotting attacks; and access certain business records.
Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union said, "It is regrettable that this extension means living with a bad law for three more months, but the silver lining is an opportunity for Congress to focus fully on making necessary reforms to the Patriot Act."
(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by Philip Barbara)