Extension urged for US surveillance law

But senator vows to stall till public is told of impact

An effort by Senator Ron Wyden would have directed the Justice Department to estimate how many people have had their calls monitored. An effort by Senator Ron Wyden would have directed the Justice Department to estimate how many people have had their calls monitored.
By Pete Yost
Associated Press / August 3, 2011

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WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to extend a wide-ranging surveillance law targeting foreigners overseas, but Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, says he will block the measure unless the public is told more about the law’s impact on people living in the United States.

In a closed-door session, the committee turned aside an amendment by Wyden and a fellow Democrat, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, that would have directed the Justice Department’s inspector general to estimate how many people inside the United States have had their phone calls and e-mails monitored by government agents under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments of 2008.

The law, due to expire at the end of next year, would be extended to June 2015 if the committee action becomes law.

The 2008 amendments to the act, which were bitterly disputed in Congress, allow the government to obtain from a secret court broad, yearlong intercept orders that target foreign groups and people overseas, raising the prospect that phone calls and e-mails between those targets and innocent Americans in this country also will be collected and reviewed.

The 2008 amendments also shielded telecommunications companies from lawsuits that complained the companies helped the government spy on Americans without court warrants during the Bush administration.

The proposed 2 1/2-year extension was inserted without public notice into the Intelligence Authorization Act for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The move was unusual because it took place a full year and a half before the law’s expiration date. Ordinarily, a proposed extension isn’t brought up until closer to the expiration date.

The committee approved the intelligence authorization bill, including the extension, at a closed-door meeting last week, at which it also rejected the Wyden-Udall amendment. Details of the meeting emerged yesterday after the authorization act and an accompanying report were printed and made public.

Recently, the expiration dates for some other intelligence laws were set at June 2015. The accompanying report that surfaced yesterday said that aligning the dates would enable Congress to review the laws comprehensively rather than in piecemeal fashion.

In a letter yesterday to Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, Wyden said he stands ready to place a hold on the measure, which would force a Senate debate on it if there is an effort to pass the legislation by unanimous consent. Wyden said his goal is to amend the bill to meet his concerns. A hold by Wyden would mean it would take 60 votes to end debate and vote on the bill.

Separately, the committee, on a voice vote, rejected another amendment by Wyden and Udall to require Attorney General Eric Holder and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to submit a report to the congressional intelligence committees on what Wyden has said are secret interpretations of domestic surveillance law. top stories on Twitter

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