Senate renews authority allowing anti-terrorism surveillance

WASHINGTON – The Senate last week voted to renew the government’s authority to conduct electronic surveillance of terrorism suspects abroad without getting individual court orders.

The 73-23 vote extended the monitoring program for another five years. The completed bill was sent to President Barack Obama, who has indicated he would sign it.

Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the bill.

Passage followed a debate over balancing national security with individual civil liberties as some senators demanded information about any Americans getting swept up by the law.

The classified program allows authorities to monitor foreign nationals abroad by listening to their phone calls and tracking their emails. In those cases, law enforcers can act without getting individual warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, which meets in secret.

Senators rejected amendments that sought to add domestic privacy protections and more oversight to the program.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., proposed that the director of national intelligence be required to report whether any emails or phone communications by Americans were collected through the law, potentially a violation of Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search.

“Unfortunately, the Congress and the public – the American people – do not currently have enough information to adequately evaluate the impact of the law we are debating on Americans’ privacy,” Wyden said.

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the information is made available to members of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, and making it public could jeopardize the program.

“If we do our job, then there is absolutely no need for this amendment – and we do our job,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee.

Wyden’s amendment was defeated 43-52. Reid and Heller voted for it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief
Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or
202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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