Welch will work to defeat wiretapping law extension

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says he’ll work to defeat the extension of a new federal wiretapping law that was passed in late July.

Welch says he’s disappointed that a number of Democrats caved in from pressure from the White House and supported the bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Welch says congressional approval of a new wiretapping law just before the August recess was "a big mistake."

Under the law, which expires in 6 months, requests by the Bush Administration to conduct domestic wiretapping can be done without the review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as long as the Attorney General gives his approval to the requests.

The bill passed when 41 Democrats in the U.S. House joined with virtually all of the Republicans to form a solid majority. Welch strongly opposed several different versions of the bill:

(Welch) "This really is an abdication of the separation of powers. That is a core principle of our democracy. There’s no judicial review under the FISA provision that was passed by Congress. Frankly I think that the courts may well find this unconstitutional because it’s depriving the court of its jurisdictional oversight. And that’s not an appropriate thing for Congress to do. This was a mistake."

(Kinzel) Welch says a number of Democrats voted for the bill because they didn’t want to be painted by Republicans as being soft on terrorism:

(Welch) "There was apprehension on the part of congressional leadership that if something bad happened in August, even if it had nothing to do with the refusal of Congress to pass this FISA change that they would get blamed – it’s really what is so difficult about this whole question of national security."

(Kinzel) Welch says he’s not opposed to the wiretapping provisions. He just wants the special court to review these requests.

(Welch) "There are ways in which our national security interests can be protected and that includes wiretapping, it includes inspecting emails, it includes searches and those can be authorized in a way where you have some independent judicial review to determine the legitimacy of these efforts."

(Kinzel) On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee opened hearings to consider a new permanent wiretapping law. Several Democrats on the panel expressed concern that the temporary law gives the Executive Branch far too much power and needs to be changed.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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