Tales from the Trail

Obama draws query by signing Patriot Act extension with auto-pen

What’s a president to do when Congress passes a bill just hours before key anti-terrorism surveillance measures are about to expire and he’s 4,000 miles away?  Auto-pen of course.

For the uninitiated, lawmakers and yes, even the president of the United States, have a  machine that has a real pen which goes over a copy of the person’s actual signature. It is typically used for signing proforma letters or souvenir pictures to send constituents or fans.

Well, President Barack Obama has been in Europe for the annual G-8 summit and Congress was racing to pass legislation extending the authorization of key surveillance methods used to try to thwart attacks on the United States, which were due to expire Thursday night at midnight. Congress came through just hours before midnight but Obama was in France.

The White House released a statement just before midnight saying that the legislation had been signed and a White House aide told Reuters that the auto-pen was used to do so at Obama’s direction.

That prompted at least one lawmaker, Georgia Republican Representative Tom Graves, to question whether that was legal or not, writing Obama a letter seeking clarification.

Senate battle brewing: surveillance vs privacy

FINANCIAL-FRAUD/FBIA battle appeared to be emerging in the U.S. Senate over extending terrorism surveillance methods versus bolstering privacy protections.

The Obama administration wants to extend three key surveillance techniques adopted in the Patriot Act law after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to track terrorism suspects.

They are roving wiretaps to track multiple communications devices an individual may use; access business records; and what’s known as the “lone wolf” provision to watch an individual who may be hatching terror plots but isn’t part of a bigger group. Those three expire Dec. 31.