Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Warrantless-Spying Bill Advances in Senate as Deadline Nears

The Senate advanced legislation Tuesday to extend the government’s authority to spy on suspected foreign terrorists’ communications, setting up a vote for final passage before the program is set to expire Friday night.

The bill, which moved forward on a 60-38 vote, would reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act through 2023, allowing the National Security Agency to continue intercepting calls and emails from possible foreign terrorists without a court warrant.

The provision "is the single most effective tool that we have to assure the American people that we’re doing everything we can to provide their safety," Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said on the Senate floor before the vote.

Some Democrats and Republicans oppose the proposal in its current form, saying it would violate the rights of Americans who get swept up in the surveillance of foreigners.

Opponents, led by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, introduced an amendment that would impose stricter privacy protections when law enforcement agencies query the FISA database for communications involving Americans.

“At the very least there ought to be a warrant to search for an American in the database,” Paul said at a news conference hours before the vote on the bill, S.139. Wyden said the amendment has bipartisan support because “we strongly oppose an end run on our Constitution.”

A similar amendment failed in the House, which voted to reauthorize the program on Jan. 11. The House vote came hours after President Donald Trump caused an uproar by tweeting that the surveillance program may have been used to spy on his 2016 presidential campaign.

The bill is supported by his administration and congressional allies, and soon after, the president posted another tweet endorsing passage.

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