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Senate overwhelmingly approves Patriot Act

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to renew the Patriot Act, capping months of debate over whether the measure adequately protects Americans' privacy rights or whether it goes too far in the name of thwarting terrorists.

By a 89 to 10 vote, senators approved a bill to modify and amend the controversial law, sending it to the House of Representatives for an expected vote next week and practically guaranteeing that President Bush will sign it.

Some of the law's sections were set to expire on March 10. But if the measure is sent to the president in time, 14 of 16 of those sections will become permanent.

The handful of senators who dissented warned it had not addressed their concerns about privacy. "We had a real chance to pass a bill that would both reauthorize the tools to prevent terrorism and fix the provisions that threaten the rights and freedoms of innocent Americans," said Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat. "This conference report... falls well short of that goal. I will vote no."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement that: "This reauthorization is the product of nearly a year of serious debate and congressional oversight -- an important process that demonstrated that the USA Patriot Act is critical to our ongoing efforts to protect Americans."