Senate panel approves five-year extension of warrantless wiretapping program

28/05/2012 19:30
[Digital surveillance image via Shutterstock]

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday approved the extension of legislation that authorized a sweeping warrantless wiretapping program started under the Bush Administration.

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 gave the government broad powers to monitor international phone calls and emails, and granted legal immunity to telecommunication companies that had participated in the wiretapping program before 2008. The law was set to expire in 2012, but the Senate bill — passed by a 13-2 vote in the committee — would extend the law for another five years.

“The bill we approved today extends critical counterterrorism and intelligence gathering tools for the Intelligence Community,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said in a statement. “The committee has determined that these provisions provide intelligence to identify terrorist operatives and to understand the intentions of our adversaries around the world. These authorities cannot be allowed to expire and we urge quick action by the Senate and House to enact this extension.”

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) both opposed the extension of the law. The two senators had asked James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, to disclose the number of people whose communications were reviewed by government agents, and whether or not the law had been used to collect communications of law abiding Americans.

“We have not gotten any clear answer on that,” Jennifer Hoelzer, a Wyden spokeswoman, told the Washington Post. “Before the Senate passes any long-term extension, we need to know how many law-abiding Americans are having their communications reviewed with these authorities.”

The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case Clapper v. Amnesty International, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal government’s surveillance program.

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