Senate agreed on Friday to approve an extension of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act, legislation that allows the NSA and
other US intelligence agencies to wiretap conversations involving
foreign citizens without obtaining a warrant.
growing opposition to one of the most notorious and secretive US
spying programs, the Senate voted 73-23 early Friday to reauthorize
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
signed into law in 1978, FISA prescribes how the US government
collects intelligence from foreign parties that may be detrimental to
national security. Of particular significance, however, is the FISA
Amendments Act of 2008, or FAA, which includes a provision that puts
any US citizen engaged in correspondence with a person overseas at
direct risk of being spied on.
the FAA, the government can eavesdrop on emails and phone calls made
or received by Americans, as long as they reasonably suspect those
conversations to include at least one person residing outside of the
May 2012, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) sent a
letter to the National Security Agency asking for an estimate on just
how many Americans have been targeted since the FAA went on the
books. In response, Inspector General I. Charles McCullough replied
that honoring their request would be “beyond
the capacity” of
the office, and that “dedicating
sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s
that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how
many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is
disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Sen.
Wyden told Wired’s Danger Room back in June.
“If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their
communications collected under this law then it is all the more
important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’
loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’
phone calls and emails without a warrant.”
Thursday this week, Sen. Wyden echoed his concerns from earlier this
year by warning that the threat to the Americans’ privacy "has
been real and it is not hypothetical.”
law should not be "an
'end run' around traditional warrant requirements and conduct
backdoor searches for American's communications,” he
though Sen. Wyden sits on the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence, he says he has been told next to nothing about how FISA
is used to target Americans. During Thursday’s debate, though, the
committee’s chairperson, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California),
rebuffed Wyden’s concerns.
one should think the targets are US persons," Feinstein
members of the intelligence committee who have voted on this do not
believe this is a problem."
person who did agree with Wyden’s concerns during Thursday’s
debate was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). The son of former
presidential hopeful Ron Paul, the senator from Kentucky suggested
that reauthorizing FISA would further relinquish what remains of the
allowed Congress and the courts to diminish our Fourth Amendment
protection, particularly when our papers were held by third parties.
I think most Americans would be shocked to know that the Fourth
Amendment does not protect your records if they're banking, Internet
or Visa records. A warrant is required to read your snail mail and to
tap your phone, but no warrant is required to look at your email,
text or your Internet searches. They can be read without a warrant.
Why is a phone call more deserving of privacy protection than an
proponents of FISA, though, renewing the act meant a necessary step
in securing America’s role in the so-called war on terror. Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who was instrumental in
actually having the bill being brought before debate, attacked Sen.
Paul’s stance and insisted that failing to act would allow
America’s enemies the opportunity to attack.
the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we will be giving terrorists the
opportunity to plot against our country undetected. The senator from
Kentucky is threatening to take away the best tools we have for
stopping them,” Reid
all remember the tragic Fort Hood shootings less than two years ago.
Radicalized American terrorists bought guns and used them to kill 13
civilians. It is hard to imagine why the senator would want to hold
up the Patriot Act for a misguided amendment that would make American
less safe,” Reid
US House of Representatives approved the reauthorizing of FISA and
the FAA in September, but the Senate had been unable to agree on
renewing the acts until Friday morning. Earlier this month, in fact,
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) asked his colleagues on Capitol Hill
to reauthorize FISA without holding any debates in the Senate in
order to pass the bill before it expired. Had no action occurred
before December 31, the warrantless wiretapping provisions would have
eroded and the NSA would no longer be able to eavesdrop on Americans’
Reid responded by saying that FISA is “an
important piece of legislation,” though “imperfect,” but
nonetheless warranted a full-on debate in the Senate.
before the Senate convened this week, the Obama administration
already acknowledged that they favored reauthorizing FISA and the
FAA. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama voted in favor of FISA and
the FAA, but said his attorney general would “conduct
a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make
further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil
liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future."
only did that never happen, but the Senate rejected a series of
amendments proposed this week that would have provided privacy
safeguards for Americans under FISA.
Senate action these authorities expire in four days and that’s the
reason the House bill is before us,” Feinstein
said on Thursday. “That
is why I urge my colleagues to vote no on all amendments.
is a view of some that this country no longer needs to fear attacks —
I don’t share that view.“
Obama must sign the bill before it officially is reauthorized for
another five years.