As expected, the Senate has voted to keep the FISA Amendments Act, which will let government agencies like the NSA and FBI spying on your emails without a warrant.
As part of the monitoring program, the government can get court orders — which do not require probable cause, like typical search warrant — to access citizens’ phone calls as well as electronic messages such as emails, provided there is evidence those communications involve “foreign intelligence information.”
Individual FISA orders can cast a huge net, targeting large groups of people at a time, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy rights watchdog.
It voted down Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.)’s proposed amendment, which would have required the NSA to specify how many U.S. citizens it monitored. Wyden has long tried, unsuccessfully, to acquire that number. He addressed the Senate for hours Thursday, saying that it’s necessary to ensure proper oversight of the NSA, but his colleagues were unconvinced, defeating the amendment 43-52. The amendments required 60 yes votes to pass.Extension of the FISA Amendments Act was passed by the Senate on a vote of 73-23 after four separate attempts by lawmakers to amend the bill were voted down Thursday. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), shown above, was a supporter of the bill.
Among the defeated amendments were a proposal to shorten the time the law could stand without review, an attempt to get the National Security Agency to publish how many Americans it has under surveillance (information that hasn’t been made available), an attempt to release courts’ opinions on the law’s legality and an amendment that would have tacitly established electronic communications as receiving protection under the Fourth Amendment.
The House had already passed an unamended version of the bill in September. Had the Senate approved any of the proposed changes, it would have forced a legislative confrontation between the two chambers which could potentially have resulted in FISA expiring before an extension was passed — all reasons cited by extension advocates in the Senate.
The FISA Amendements Act was set to expire on Dec. 31, which remains the case until the extension is signed into law by President Barack Obama. His signature is all but guaranteed, as he previously said he “strongly” supported the House bill, which is identical to the version passed by the Senate.
FISA, first passed in 1978, was extensively overhauled in 2008 to grant Bush administration officials retroactive immunity for a federal wiretapping program authorized without congressional approval, details of which were first uncovered by the New York Times in 2005. Since that report, several former NSA whistleblowers have come out against FISA, claiming the government is essentially using it to create a vast database of American citizens’ personal communications in the name of counter-terrorism.