House Panel Approves Electronic Surveillance Bill

House Panel Approves Electronic Surveillance Bill

Grant Gross, IDG News Service
1 hour, 50 minutes ago

A U.S. House of Representatives Committee has approved a controversial
bill that would broaden the U.S. government’s ability to conduct
electronic surveillance on U.S. residents by making it easier for
federal law enforcement officials to get court-issued warrants.

The
Electronic Modernization Surveillance Act, opposed by several privacy
groups, would also allow federal law enforcement officials to spy on
U.S. residents for up to 90 days without a court order in the period
after a terrorist attack. The

House
Judiciary Committee
approved the legislation Wednesday by a
20-16 vote, with all committee Democrats present voting against the
bill.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Heather Wilson (news,
bio,
voting
record
)
(R-New Mexico, would reduce the amount of information required from
federal agents applying for a wiretapping warrant from the U.S. Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court. The bill would clarify that the U.S.
government can seek wiretaps on any type of electronic communication,
not just telephone- or radio-spectrum-based communication.

A Tool Against Terrorism?

Republicans praised the bill, saying it will help the U.S.
government fight terrorism. The bill will provide the U.S. intelligence
agencies "greater agility and flexibility as they try to thwart our
determined and dangerous terrorist enemies," Committee Chairman James
Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) said in a statement.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill by the end of the
month. The committee’s action comes after President

George Bush
called on Congress to approve a controversial
electronic surveillance program

conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency. The NSA has conducted
the program, reportedly targeting U.S. residents speaking with
foreigners who have suspected terrorism connections, without getting
court warrants.

Bush has asked Congress to authorize the NSA program to ward off
multiple court challenges against it. In August, a U.S. judge in
Michigan ruled the NSA program is illegal and must be halted. The Bush
administration has appealed that ruling.

Or an Attack on Privacy?

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved three surveillance bills
last week. The Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy and civil
liberties advocacy group, called the Wilson bill and the Senate’s
National Security Surveillance Act two of the worst bills now in
Congress.

"Couched in the seemingly laudable terms of ‘modernization,’ the
bills would radically undermine the privacy of innocent Americans– not
just by legitimizing the administration’s warrantless surveillance
programs– but by granting this and future administrations even broader
authority to spy on Americans in the United States without judicial
review," the CDT said on its Web site.

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