Congress extends Patriot Act, no new protections

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation to extend expiring provisions of the anti-terror USA Patriot Act won final congressional approval on Thursday, with Democrats unable to add additional civil liberties protections.

On vote of 315-97, the House of Representatives approved the bill, a day after it cleared the Senate. It now heads to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The Obama administration wanted to extend the measure because of provisions it says are important in tracking suspected terrorists, including roving wiretaps to track multiple communications devices. But some lawmakers wanted additional privacy measures to protect against abuses.

With the Patriot Act provisions set to expire on Sunday, lawmakers agreed to extend them for a year, and effectively put off a showdown on efforts to bolster safeguards.

Democrats had sought changes to protect law-abiding U.S. citizens, but Republicans managed to tie up their efforts, arguing that changes would undermine the tracking of suspected enemies of the United States.

Democratic Representative Jane Harman opposed the extension, citing abuses of the law during the administration of President George W. Bush.

“While I strongly support using the most robust tools possible to go after terrorists, Congress must revise and narrow -- not extend -- Bush era policies,” Harman said.

The Patriot Act was quickly passed by Congress after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The extended provisions include: authority for “roving wiretaps” to track an individual’s use of multiple communications devices; gaining access to certain personal and business records; and tracking so-called “lone wolf” suspects who are not members of an organized enemy group.

The provisions have been cited as necessary by lawmakers in the aftermath of the failed attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up a U.S. commercial passenger jet and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas by a military psychiatrist who had been communicating with an anti-American cleric in Yemen.

Reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Andy Sullivan; editing by David Alexander and Todd Eastham