Obama seeks extension of anti-terrorism spy powers

© AFP/Jim Watson

AFP/Activist Post

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Wading into a congressional battle, the White House urged lawmakers Tuesday to extend through 2013 key provisions of a controversial surveillance law designed to help thwart terrorist plots.

At issue were three core measures in the Patriot Act adopted in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks to fill what the government complained were gaps in its abilities to track and catch extremists.

The provisions, which expire at month’s end, allow authorities to use roving wiretaps to track an individual on several telephones; track a non-US national suspected of being “lone-wolf” terrorist not tied to an extremist group; and to seize personal or business records seen as critical to an investigation.

The White House said in a statement that it “strongly supports extension of three critical authorities that our nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to protect our national security.”

With the Republican-held House of Representatives set to vote on extending the powers to December 8, the White House said it “would strongly prefer” that an extension to December 2013, but “does not object” to the House bill.

The White House statement put the administration at odds with Senate Republicans who say they want the law extended permanently and papered over a split among President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has proposed legislation to extend the powers to December 31, 2013, but add safeguards to ensure authorities do not needlessly invade the privacy of individuals or businesses.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein has proposed legislation with the same timetable, but without the restrictions.

Leahy’s restrictions are “not helpful” to authorities hunting terrorists, said the top Republican on Feinstein’s committee, Saxby Chambliss, who signalled Republicans could back her measure.

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