December 28, 2012
The Senate on Friday reauthorized for five years broad electronic eavesdropping powers that legalized and expanded the President George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
The FISA Amendments Act, (.pdf) which was expiring Monday at midnight, allows the government to electronically eavesdrop on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is believed outside the United States. The communications may be intercepted “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”
The House approved the measure in September. President Barack Obama, who said the spy powers were a national security priority, is expected to quickly sign the package before the law Congress codified in 2008 expires in the coming days. Over the past two days, the Senate debated and voted down a handful of amendments in what was seen as largely political theater to get Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to lift a procedural hold on the FISA Amendments Act legislation that barred lawmakers from voting on the package.
In the end, the identical package the House passed 301-118 swept through the Senate on a 73-23 vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union immediately blasted the vote.
“The Bush administration’s program of warrantless wiretapping, once considered a radical threat to the Fourth Amendment, has become institutionalized for another five years,” said Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel.
Amendments senators refused to enact included extending the measure for just three years, another one requiring the government to account for how many times Americans’ communications have been intercepted, and one by Wyden prohibiting U.S. spy agencies from reviewing the communications of Americans ensnared in the program.