FBI: Surveillance Tools in Jeopardy Amid U.S. Debate

As Congress wrestles over renewing the law that authorizes bulk collection of Americans' phone records, federal law enforcement officials are warning that legal authority is also at risk for lesser-known surveillance tools that are even more valuable in fighting terrorism.

The Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, authorities give the FBI flexibility to intercept the calls of terror suspects who continuously switch phones during the course of an investigation and to conduct surveillance on "lone wolf" individuals who pose threats but aren't affiliated with an international terrorism organization.

U.S. officials have defended the need for those powers over the last decade, but have amplified those efforts in recent weeks as the expiration dates for their authority nears without any signals of a congressional compromise that would keep them from lapsing along with other parts of the act on June 1.

The Senate returns to session on Sunday, facing a deadline to reach a last-minute agreement to renew a once-secret National Security Agency program that collects Americans' phone records in bulk. Provisions of the Patriot Act dealing with lone-wolf targets and allow roving wiretaps would also expire at midnight with the phone records program.

FBI Director James Comey (pictured above) has called bulk phone collection a useful tool to the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. But recently he has expressed more concern about being able to maintain the lone wolf and roving wiretap capabilities, as well as a separate Patriot Act provision that allows the FBI to obtain secret court orders to collect documents such as hotel and travel records during terrorism investigations, and which also would be affected by the deadline.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned Wednesday against permitting the expiration of "vital and uncontroversial tools we use to combat terrorism and crime."

But civil liberties lawyers say the FBI already has the tools it...

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