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Warrantless wiretaps get 5 year extension

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Federal intelligence agencies can now eavesdrop on communications inside the United States involving foreign citizens without the need of a specific warrant for each case until Dec. 31, 2017.

On Dec. 30, 2012, President Obama signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012 into law, adding five more years to the U.S. surveillance and wiretapping authority under existing oversight from a special court.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the legislation is needed by the intelligence community and that it contains strong privacy protections--an area of contention for the bill, including in a Supreme Court case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Feinstein told The Washington Post that electronic surveillance played a role in many of the 100 arrests related to terrorist plots over the past four years.

The bill calls for a blanket approval issued once each year by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which must check the government's targeting procedures and privacy protections. The bill also provides retroactive and ongoing immunity for telecommunication companies that assist with the wiretapping program.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed concern over the blanket approval and said during debate on the bill that senators and the American public should be told "whether the government has ever taken advantage of this backdoor search loophole and conducted a warrantless search for the phone calls or e-mails of specific Americans."

During debate on the bill (H.R.5949), Wyden's amendment requiring the director of national intelligence to provide a report on any citizens whose communications were intercepted did not pass, nor did three other amendments that contained new safeguards.

For more:
- go to the THOMAS page for the bill
- download the rules of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (.pdf)
- read the Washington Post article

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