Patriot Act Re-authorization Nixed by U.S. Senate

December 18, 2005

The life insurance industry had a stake in a decision made on Capitol Hill on Friday when the U. S. Senate refused to re-authorize major portions of the USA Patriot Act. Critics of the act complained they infringed too much on Americans’ privacy and liberty. The defeat was huge for the Bush administration and Republican leaders.

Supporters for the re-authorization could not get past the filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho. In the end, supporters lacked the 60 votes needed. The final vote was 52-47.

The Patriot Act’s final rule was issued on Nov. 1, 2005. In it property casualty insurers, as well as health insurers were exempt, according to Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s Senior Counsel and Director Kathleen Jensen. Jensen explained that life insurers will still be impacted by the law, if re-authorized, because of the investments that are often part of their business.

“Money laundering is essentially the major concern here,” Jensen said. “Property casualty insurers are not involved in the kinds of transactions that would open the door to the concerns outlined in the Patriot Act.” Jensen added that impact on life insurers would be minimal, nevertheless this part of the industry is still alive in the rule.

Despite support for new safeguards and expiration dates to the act’s two most controversial parts: authorization for roving wiretaps, which allow investigators to monitor multiple devices to keep a target from evading detection by switching phones or computers; and secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries, the Senate did not pass the re-authorization.

Critics said the new safeguards were not enough to change their votes. However, President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have said no to any proposal for a short-term extension of the law.

If a compromise is not reached, the 16 Patriot Act provisions will expire on Dec. 31. According to an Associated Press story, some big exceptions will remain. Investigators will still be able to use those powers to complete any investigation that began before the expiration date and to initiate new investigations of any alleged crime that began before Dec. 31, according to a provision in the original law. There are ongoing investigations of every known terrorist group, including al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad and the Zarqawi group in Iraq. All the Patriot Act tools could continue to be used in those investigations.

Republicans who voted against the re-authorization were Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Craig and Frist. Democrats voting to extend the provision were Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

The House on Wednesday passed a House-Senate compromise bill to renew the expiring portions of the Patriot Act. Supporters contend that the added safeguards are signficant. Senate supporters say that the compromise is the only thing that has a chance to pass Congress before 2006.

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