Bush to sign anti-terror USA Patriot Act

After a long battle with Congress and a cliffhanger vote, President George W. Bush is signing a renewal of the USA Patriot Act Thursday, a day before 16 major provisions of the anti-terror law would have expired.

Republicans are declaring victory over the extension of the law. The president's party wants to burnish its national security credentials before midterm elections in November, when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of 100 Senate seats will be up for election in November.

Party leaders hope passage of the Patriot Act will help to balance the bad news of continuing violence in Iraq, controversy over the formerly secret program of wiretapping of some international communications without court warrants and a national uproar over plans to let a United Arab Emirates company take control of some operations at six U.S. seaports.

The legislation passed in the House Tuesday night after several months of debate in the Congress over how to balance Americans' right to privacy with a need to foil potential terror threats. Political battles over the legislation forced Congress twice to extend the expiration date of the Patriot Act.

The 280-138 vote was just two votes more than needed under House rules requiring a two-thirds majority to pass legislation handled on an expedited basis.

The legislation renews expiring provisions of the original Patriot Act, including one that lets federal officials obtain "tangible items," such as business records, from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.

Other provisions clarify that foreign intelligence or counterintelligence officers should share information obtained as part of a criminal investigation with counterparts in domestic law enforcement agencies.

Yet another provision is designed to strengthen port security by imposing strict punishments on crew members who impede or mislead law enforcement officers trying to board their ships, reports the AP.

I.L.