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Domestic surveillance bill passed in House

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives passed the Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act [HR 5825 text, PDF] Thursday night, voting 232-191 [roll call] mostly along party lines. The bill, approved by the House Judiciary Committee [JURIST report] last week, specifies when and how the president can order the use of warrantless surveillance [JURIST news archive]. Under the legislation, warrantless surveillance would be justified following an "armed attack" or a "terrorist attack," or if the president perceives an "imminent threat of attack." The government could use the measures for up to 90 days after an armed attack and up to 90 days when the president declares an imminent threat. Warrantless surveillance could be extended indefinitely by 90-day periods with congressional and court oversight.

Critics of the legislation argue that it would grant too much authority to the executive branch and threatens the civil liberties of Americans, while supporters believe it would improve congressional oversight and make the nation safer. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) [official website] charged that provisions in the bill's fine print grant the administration authority to "demand personal records without court review" and hinder legal action against wiretapping. The Senate has so far been unable to agree on its own measure [JURIST report] and is considered unlikely to pass legislation before the November elections, which would leave the matter hanging. The current unapproved Senate version [S 3876 text] is broader than the House legislation, granting the president more power to conduct wiretaps. Reuters has more.

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