House Overwhelmingly Approves Extension of Warrantless Wiretapping

Friday, September 14, 2012

Begun under President George W. Bush and maintained by President Barack Obama, the federal government’s warrantless wiretapping program would continue beyond this year under legislation approved overwhelmingly by the U.S. House.


By a vote of 301-118, lawmakers reauthorized the National Security Agency and other federal spy operations to perform another five years of broad electronic eavesdropping on Americans.


The spying was made legal by the FISA Amendments Act, which is set to expire unless Congress renews it. The law allows the administration to snoop on Americans’ phone calls and pry into emails without a probable-cause warrant as long as one of the parties resides outside the United States.


Prior to the Bush administration’s establishment of warrantless wiretapping, such spying had to be authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That court now has been relegated to largely rubber-stamping eavesdropping missions on American communications.


Republicans were largely responsible for the bill’s passage. However, not all GOP lawmakers approved it.


Representative Tom McClintock (R-California) voted against it, saying: “We’re told, don’t worry, the law requires that any irrelevant information collected in this manner be disregarded. But here’s the problem: the enforcement of this provision is itself shrouded in secrecy, making the potential for abuse substantial and any remedy unlikely.”


The extension cannot be authorized without approval from the U.S. Senate, where its passage is not certain. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) previously blocked similar legislation from moving forward.


Meanwhile, a lawsuit by journalists and civil liberties groups challenging the law has been in the federal courts pipeline for four years. The Obama administration argues that the case should be dismissed because the media and civil liberties groups cannot prove that they have been harmed by the bill. The Supreme Court will take up that issue on October 20.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

House Approves Sweeping, Warrantless Electronic Spy Powers (by David Kravets, Wired)

House Approves Another Five Years of Warrantless Wiretapping (by Timothy Lee, Ars Technica)

Obama Fights to Retain Warrantless Wiretapping (by Matt Bewig and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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