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Disagreement over impact if surveillance laws do expire

Published:Sunday | May 31, 2015 | 12:00 AM


Barring a last-minute deal in Congress, three post-September 11 surveillance laws used against suspected spies and terrorists are set to expire as today turns into Monday.

Obama administration officials say their expiration will make Americans less secure. But civil liberties activists counter by saying that's nonsense.

That heated debate may recede to a simmer if senators, set to meet in an unusual session today, decide to accept a House-passed bill that extends the programmes and then send the measure to President Barack Obama to sign before midnight.

While there are compelling arguments on both sides, failure to pass legislation would mean new barriers for the government in domestic national security investigations, at a time when intelligence officials say the threat at home is growing.

"If these provisions expire, counterterrorism investigators are going to have greater restrictions on them than ordinary law-enforcement investigators," said Nathan Sales, a Syracuse University law professor and former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration.

But this is rejected by several activists.

"The government has numerous other tools, including administrative and grand jury subpoenas, which would enable it to gather necessary information," in terrorism investigations, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.