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House Advances Internet Surveillance Bill

August 4, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Under the title the "Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act", Congress is advancing legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to access information about the online activities of all Americans, regardless of whether or not they are suspected of having committed a crime. By a 19-10 vote, the bipartisan bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27th, as the media frenzy around the debt ceiling debate was consuming virtually all the attention being paid to Capitol Hill. It will now move to the full House floor for a vote on passage. Unless perceptions of the bill shift dramatically, it is expected to pass and move to the Senate.

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No matter how hard rank-and-file members of Congress may try to reform it, the PATRIOT Act always seems to get special protection from the leadership. In February when the last PATRIOT Act extension was passed by Congress, the House Republican leadership did all it could, including violating a major campaign pledge on procedural openness, to prevent representatives from having their amendments voted on. Now that it's up for extension again, it's the Senate Democrats this time who are using special procedural maneuvers to block senators from offering amendments.

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If you want to break the partisan divide and get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on something, just give them a bill that makes it easier for the government to spy on U.S. citizens without judicial oversight. Yesterday, the Senate voted 74-8, with 18 senators abstaining, in favor of moving forward with legislation to extend three of the most controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance powers for four more years, without any modifications. By contrast, the Senate has had to pull a small business jobs bill and two of Obama's judicial nominees from the floor after the Republicans mounted successful filibusters.

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Congress will investigate a controversial intelligence-gathering program after officials within the National Security Agency said it may have overstepped its bounds in conducting electronic surveillance on Americans. According to a story first reported in the New York Times, officials with the Justice Department, along with NSA personnel, discovered the irregular activity during a regular review of the program. DOJ staff discovered NSA had eavesdropped on domestic e-mails and telephone calls o...

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