Administration Seeks Patriot Act Extensions, Defies Liberties Groups

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The Obama administration has asked Congress to extend three contentious provisions of the USA Patriot Act - a bill once described by President Obama as shoddy - and urged an appeals court to deny access to U.S. courts for detainees at a military prison in Afghanistan.

Civil liberties groups immediately criticized both moves, which would extend Bush-era terrorism policies that have long been unpopular with Democrats.

In a letter made public Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asking Congress to reauthorize three portions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year.

The three portions permit roving wiretaps, the seizure of certain business records and the monitoring of suspected lone wolf terrorists. Mr. Weich said the administration is willing to consider modifications that provide additional privacy protections provided they do not undermine the effectiveness of the provisions.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it is disappointed that the administration wants the reauthorization of the three expiring provisions. The group said, however, that it is encouraged by the administration's willingness to discuss reforms to the Patriot Act, which President Obama in 2004 called a shoddy piece of legislation.

Though there may be some value to these provisions, they - like many other Patriot Act provisions - are written much too broadly and have already proven themselves to be problematic in the hands of law enforcement, said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. The privacy rights of all Americans will continue to be at risk if we continue to let these statutes remain as they are.

The ACLU blasted the Obama administration Tuesday for a court filing that argued that the roughly 600 prisoners at Bagram air base in Afghanistan should not have access to courts in the United States. A landmark Supreme Court decision gave detainees at the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, such access to the courts.

In its 85-page filing, the Obama administration said Bagram detainees should not have access to U.S. courts because the situations at that prison and Guantanamo are not similar for many reasons, such as the Bagram prison location in a war zone in Afghanistan. The filing is part of an appeal from a lower court's ruling that Bagram prisoners can challenge their detention in U. …