Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) addresses the Republican National Convention in...

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. (Aug. 29, 2012) Credit: AP

The U.S. Senate voted 73-23 to renew the government's authority to conduct electronic surveillance on suspected terrorists abroad, even if it involves monitoring the emails or phone calls of U.S. citizens.

That action clears the legislation for President Barack Obama to sign it into law. The House passed it in September.

The bill would reauthorize until the end of 2017 a law enacted in 2008 updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That law expires Dec. 31.

U.S. intelligence officials have said a straightforward reauthorization is their top legislative priority.

The law allows intelligence agencies to monitor the email, Internet activity and phone calls of non-U.S. citizens reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. and involved in terrorist activities or other crimes.

Court warrants aren't required, even if the communications of U.S. citizens are involved or if the surveillance takes place in the United States.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reviews and approves annual certifications from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence describing the surveillance activity.

Intelligence agencies are required to follow procedures to minimize the collection, retention and dissemination of communications involving U.S. citizens. A court-approved warrant is required if a U.S. citizen becomes the target of surveillance.

The government can conduct surveillance without approval from the FISA court for as many as seven days in emergency circumstances before submitting the required certification.

Senators led by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to include what they said were needed provisions to protect the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.

In a Sept. 10 policy statement, the White House said that it strongly supported the House-passed bill, which would renew the law until Dec. 31, 2017. Obama voted for the 2008 law when he was a senator.

The bill is H.R. 5949.

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