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House Passes Short-Term Extension of Terror Wiretap Authority

The U.S. House approved a three-month extension of the government’s authority to conduct roving wiretaps of suspected terrorists, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The measure, which passed 279-143, would extend the wiretap power until May 27. It also would continue the government’s ability to get access to suspected terrorists’ business and other records and to monitor so-called “lone wolf” suspects. The provisions are set to expire Feb. 28, and the Senate approved the extension yesterday.

“There’s bipartisan consensus that these important tools for our intelligence community cannot be allowed to lapse,” said Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican.

The roving-wiretap provision allows federal agents to obtain a single warrant, from the secret court that supervises counter-intelligence investigations, to monitor the phone calls of suspected terrorists who use a series of mobile phones and other communications devices.

The second provision lets agents, with approval from the secret court, obtain any “tangible item” that aids investigations of a suspected plot by foreign-based terrorists. It is known as the library records provision.

Those sections are part of the USA Patriot Act, which Congress enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to boost law enforcement’s ability to monitor suspected terrorists in the U.S. The act has been updated and extended since then, and the overall law is set to expire in 2013.

The third section, authorizing surveillance of terrorists unconnected to foreign groups, is part of a separate 2004 law.

Opponents say the provisions violate civil liberties. Representative Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, called the measure “Big Brother at its creepiest.”

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