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Most of Oklahoma's delegation supports extending Patriot Act

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Four of Oklahoma's five U.S. House members voted to extend indefinitely the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act, a bill that has prompted concern from civil libertarians who say the measure threatens to undermine personal freedoms.

The House voted 257-171 late Thursday to renew key provisions of the bill that would have expired later this year.

A separate version of the bill is being considered in the Senate. Both measures are expected to be sent to a conference committee for reconciliation.

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., was one of only 14 House Republicans who broke ranks with his colleagues and opposed the bill.

``Making these provisions permanent is what caused him to have reservations about the legislation and eventually vote against it,'' said Lucas spokesman Jim Luetkemeyer. ``He always believed the Patriot Act was a wartime measure and a temporary piece of legislation that Congress should review periodically. He could not support making those provisions permanent.''

U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., was one of 43 Democrats who favored the House version of the bill.

While most of the key provisions of the Patriot Act were extended indefinitely under the House bill, two contentious sections were limited to 10 years: allowing federal agents to use roving wiretaps and to search library and medical records.

The passage of the bill was praised by President Bush, but viewed as a blow to personal freedoms by the American Civil Liberties Union, which criticized lawmakers for rushing the bill through Congress.

``Controversial sections of the act do not expire for another five months, and like the initial passage of the Patriot Act, its reauthorization process was rushed and not given the full measure of time for careful consideration of the ramifications of this bill,'' ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy Lisa Graves said in a statement. ``History shows that the willingness to curtail America's freedoms during national challenges ultimately leads to regrets about betraying our fundamental values.''

Officials with the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security said the Patriot Act is an important tool for law enforcement and goes a long way toward breaking down communication barriers between various law enforcement agencies.

``We have a new enemy that has new tactics and new methods of operation and we need these new tools in place to help combat that,'' said Melissa McLawhorn Houston, chief of staff for the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security. ``These are tools that have been in place for a period of time to help law enforcement battle drug cartels and organized crime. Certainly the threat posed to our state and nation from terrorism would warrant these tools.''

State Rep. John Nance, who worked for 28 years as an investigative agent for the Treasury Department, said he believes there are numerous safeguards in the Patriot Act and that allowing for expedited search warrants will help law enforcement more efficiently track and catch criminals.

``There are some times when you need a swift response, and in view of what's going on in the world, I think this is one of those times,'' said Nance, R-Bethany.

Nance said he also supported the idea of expanded wiretaps and the ability of agents to monitor what library books a suspected terrorist was reading.

``The guilty flee when no man pursues,'' Nance said. ``If you're going to the library to learn about how to make bombs, maybe we ought to know about it.''
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