US Congress sends Obama spy powers extension

© AFP/File Paul J. Richards


WASHINGTON (AFP) – US lawmakers on Thursday sent President Barack Obama legislation to extend controversial counter-terrorism surveillance and search powers enacted in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The US House of Representatives, following in the Senate’s footsteps, voted 279-143 to extend until May 27 three Patriot Act provisions due to expire at month’s end.

The move came amid a bitter battle over how long to extend the intrusive powers at the core of the signature legislative response to the terror strikes nearly 10 years ago, and with what safeguards.

The provisions allow authorities to use roving wiretaps to track an individual on several telephones; track a non-US national suspected of being a “lone-wolf” terrorist not tied to an extremist group; and to seize personal or business records or “any tangible thing” seen as critical to an investigation.

While the White House backs extending those powers through 2013, the law has drawn fire from an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and Republicans tied to the archconservative “Tea Party” movement who say it goes too far.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has proposed a bill to extend the provisions through December 2013, putting her at odds with fellow Democrat and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.

Leahy has pushed a rival measure with the same timetable but limiting the government’s abilities to use the various powers and greater scrutiny when they do, notably to protect against abuse or needless invasions of privacy.

“I do not support permanent extension of these surveillance authorities,” he said recently. “I support strengthening oversight while providing the intelligence community the certainty it needs to protect national security.”

Leahy also called for action well before December, warning that “we should not extend this debate into an election year and risk that some will play politics with our national security.”

Obama has pressed lawmakers for an extension through December 2013, while leading Senate Republicans have called for making the powers permanent but signaled they could back Feinstein’s measure.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license

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