Congress’ passage and President Bush’s signing this past weekend of the FISA Wiretapping Bill met with significant controversy from various civil liberties organizations. Below is a roundup of articles about and responses to the bill.
Articles on the signing
The Congress yielded to President George W. Bush on Saturday and approved legislation to temporarily expand the government’s power to conduct electronic surveillance without a court order in tracking foreign suspects. Civil liberties groups charged the measure would create a broad net that would sweep up law-abiding U.S. citizens. But the House of Representatives gave its concurrence to the bill, 227-183, a day after it won Senate approval, 60-28. The measure would authorize the National Security Agency to intercept without a court order communications between people in the United States and foreign targets overseas. The administration would have to submit to a secret court a description of the procedures they used to determine that warrantless surveillance only targeted people outside the United States. The measure is to expire in six months. Lawmakers are to come up with permanent legislation in the meantime.
Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government’s ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.
They also said that the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens.
“This more or less legalizes the N.S.A. program,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, who has studied the new legislation.
The ACLU’s website blared “Congress Caves to Bush on Spy Laws,” condemned the Senate for its passage of the bill, and its legislative director Caroline Fredrickson dissected the bill in the Huffington Post :
See ACLU’s “Myths and Facts” for a more detailed analysis.
From the Center for Democracy and Technology:
“Congress should be focusing on restoring checks and balances to intelligence surveillance, not on authorizing more warrantless wiretapping of communications that involve people in the United States,” CDT President Leslie Harris said. If there is a person in the United States on the line, court authorization should be the rule.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said (before the vote):
It’s highly irresponsible for Congress to even consider this proposal before uncovering the truth about the still-shadowy spying program. In recent weeks, Congress has made strides towards more vigorous oversight and authorized subpoenas for key information, but the proposed bill would short-circuit such scrutiny.
To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law — or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions.
Yet here they are, after refusing to legalize warrantless eavesdropping prior to their midterm victory, allowing this legislation to pass now that they are in the majority. It is as politically self-destructive as it is unconscionable on the merits.
UPDATE: See how your Senators and Representative voted.
Roll Call Vote on S. 1927, A bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to provide additional procedures for authorizing certain acquisitions of foreign intelligence information and for other purposes.
In short, the law gives the Administration the power to order the nation’s communication service providers — which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks — to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.