updated 2/1/2006 10:03:43 AM ET 2006-02-01T15:03:43

The House of Representatives is set to vote Wednesday on extending the USA Patriot Act to March 10 to give the White House and conservative Senate Republicans time to strike a deal that would strengthen civil liberties without weakening the war on terror.

Without an extension, the law would expire on Friday.

The Senate was expected to follow before the deadline.

It would be the second time Congress has extended the law. Originally passed five weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Patriot Act was due to expire Dec. 31.

Just before leaving for Christmas, Congress extended the law until Feb. 3 because Senate Democrats and four libertarian-leaning Republicans blocked a final vote on a measure negotiated by the White House that would have made most expiring provisions permanent. The Republicans were concerned about excessive police powers.

The 2001 law makes it easier for federal agents to gather and share information in terrorism investigations, install wiretaps and conduct secret searches of households and businesses. At issue are 16 provisions that Congress wanted reviewed and renewed by the end of last year.

Objections to the compromise last fall centered on the degree to which people and institutions that receive National Security Letters — secret requests for phone, business and Internet records — can appeal them in court.

Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and John Sununu, R-N.H., say the law makes it nearly impossible to challenge NSLs and their secretive demands for information.

Six weeks might be enough to strike a deal on the matter with the White House, Craig and Sununu said.

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