February 8, 2011 / 6:25 PM / 7 years ago

Clash looms over extending U.S. surveillance methods

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Tuesday urged the Congress to extend for nearly three years key powers to track terrorism suspects, setting up a possible clash with Senate Republicans who have urged making them permanent.

The methods, originally adopted shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks and set to expire at the end of this month, permit roving wiretaps, tracking suspected foreigners who may be acting alone in plotting attacks, and accessing certain business records.

The House of Representatives plans to vote later on Tuesday to authorize the techniques for another nine months. The White House said that while it would support the nine-month extension proposed by House Republicans, it would “strongly prefer” that they be re-authorized through December 2013.

“This approach would ensure appropriate congressional oversight by maintaining a sunset, but the longer duration provides the necessary certainty and predictability that our nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies require,” the White House said in a statement.

An aide for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee said a nine-month extension would provide time for new lawmakers to get up to speed on the issue and for the panel to discuss fully the usefulness of the techniques.

“It gives Congress time for an open and meaningful debate, while ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence communities can continue to prevent attacks and save lives,” said Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the committee.

Senate Republicans last week pushed for a permanent extension of the surveillance methods to give intelligence and law enforcement authorities greater certainty as they try to detect and disrupt plots against the United States.

The different approaches present an early test of bipartisan cooperation between Obama and Republicans who last year won control of the House and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Republicans have repeatedly hammered the administration over its handling of terrorism cases. More broadly, they and the administration have been increasingly concerned about the so-called lone wolf threat.

In recent months, there have been several terrorism plots uncovered involving individuals largely acting alone.

The American Civil Liberties Union has urged lawmakers to adopt stronger protections to ensure that authorities are not allowed to illegally spy on innocent Americans.

“We’re disappointed that another sunset is coming and going without any substantial changes to the Patriot Act,” said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the ACLU.

Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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