On Friday, Congress extended through 2017 a bill that grants the government power to monitor Americans without a warrant and accepted none of the proposals to ensure protections to privacy and civil liberties.
The FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) amendments were first passed in 2008 after it was revealed that President George W. Bush had illegally authorized eavesdropping within the United States without the required court approval. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein led the effort to rush the renewal of that law with minimal time for debate, asserting that any lapse in the government’s ability to freely monitor people, as well as the approval of the proposed amendments, could put the country at risk of terrorism.
Her colleagues in the Senate agreed by a vote of 73 to 23. President Obama, who strongly supports the bill, is expected to sign it within the next few days.
In a furious article on the bill’s renewal, Glenn Greenwald reminds us that while campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Obama vowed to filibuster “any bill” that retroactively immunized telecommunication companies and the Bush administration for their collusion in the NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping program. Months later he broke that promise, and in fact voted against the filibuster when other senators proposed it.
Critics of the bill in Congress and civil liberties groups said they suspected intelligence agencies were monitoring the communications of many Americans, but that “they could not be sure because the agencies would not provide even rough estimates of how many people inside the United States had had communications collected under authority of the surveillance law,” The New York Times reports.
Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois said the law “does not have adequate checks and balances to protect the constitutional rights of innocent American citizens. It is supposed to focus on foreign intelligence, but the reality is that this legislation permits targeting an innocent American in the United States as long as an additional purpose of the surveillance is targeting a person outside the United States.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
The New York Times:
Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that he and Mr. Wyden were concerned that “a loophole” in the 2008 law “could allow the government to effectively conduct warrantless searches for Americans’ communications.”
… By a vote of 52 to 43, the Senate on Friday rejected a proposal by Mr. Wyden to require the national intelligence director to tell Congress if the government had collected any domestic e-mail or telephone conversations under the surveillance law.
The Senate also rejected, 54 to 37, an amendment that would have required disclosure of information about significant decisions by a special federal court that reviews applications for electronic surveillance in foreign intelligence cases.
TheeErin (CC BY-ND 2.0)