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Some controversial Patriot Act provisions facing renewal

WASHINGTON—A "sunset" element in the Patriot Act means that 16 of its provisions will die at the end of the year if Congress doesn't re-enact them.

Most of the provisions aren't controversial. Some that are won't lapse, including a "sneak and peek" provision that allows searches without notifying the subject of the search until much later.

The main provisions that require renewal and have generated debate include:

SHARING INFORMATION: Taking down the "wall" between intelligence and law enforcement officials allows them to share the data generated by surveillance more easily. The Justice Department says that's a critical tool in counterterrorism and it has also helped in prosecutions. Critics worry that by not defining what information is relevant, the collection and warehousing of personal information can violate people's privacy.

ROVING WIRETAPS: This section makes it easier to trace the communications of a suspect using many phones and computers. Investigators say that's necessary in a high-tech age. Critics worry that without adequate checks, the communications of innocent people will be intercepted and stored.

ACCESS TO RECORDS: Perhaps the most controversial section, it allows the FBI, with a warrant, to search through "any tangible thing" related to an intelligence investigation. This could include medical, library, financial, computer and travel records. This authority has been used carefully, only 35 times, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said. Critics warn that the provision is too broadly worded and opens the way for fishing expeditions and other abuses.

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(Davies reports for The Miami Herald.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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