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The Senate voted Monday to open debate on the rights-robbing USA Patriot Act — the Bush-era anti-terrorism law passed by a shell-shocked Congress in the days following the September 11 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Critics of the act argue that it violates several sections of the Constitution by allowing the federal government to spy on Americans without oversight or review.
In a 74-8 vote, the Senate approved debate on the bill. A final vote on extending the law for four years is expected later this this week.
Extending the law represents another flip-flop by President Barack Obama, who criticized the law in his 2008 campaign for President, then backed a three-month temporary extension in February and now wants a longer extension, saying it is “crucial” for intelligence and law enforcement communities.
The original USA Patriot Act was written largely by John Ashcroft, then-attorney general under former President George W. Bush. Most members of Congress admitted they voted for the act without reading it or realizing its implications on freedoms once guaranteed by the Constitution.
The government has invoked the act to hold U.S. citizens without due process, track the movements and financial records of Americans and snoop into the private lives of anyone they wish.
The House of Representatives is also expected to vote on the extension later this week.