Civil Liberties

Senate Attempts Sneaky Renewal of FISA Warrantless Wiretapping


Apparently impatient with those Americans — and a handful of senators — who still think the government ought not be snooping on people without at least a perfunctory nod to due process and legal restraint, the Senate leadership is trying to slip through a renewal of the soon-to-expire FISA Amendments Act without debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in particular, is a big fan of the legislation, and is steamrolling over a small bipartisan coalition that wants to insert just modest privacy protections. As Reid told The Hill, "FISA, this is an important piece of legislation as imperfect as it is, it is necessary to protect us from the evil in this world." Reid went on to justify the limits placed on amendments and discussion in terms of the importance of passing the legislation by year's end.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains why skating through the troublesome business of actually considering the legislation to be voted upon is a bad idea:

The FISA Amendments Act continues to be controversial; key portions of it were challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. In brief, the law allows the government to get secret FISA court orders—orders that do not require probable cause like regular warrants—for any emails or phone calls going to and from overseas. The communications only have to deal with "foreign intelligence information," a broad term that can mean virtually anything. And one secret FISA order can be issued against groups or categories of people—potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans at once.

Senate leaders, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell, owe the American public a debate about this law – including how many Americans have been scooped up in it, how many times it has been used in non-terrorism investigations and how much it has cost the American taxpayers.

In coverage of the Senate opposition to the FISA extension, U.S. News & World Report quoted Oregon's Sen. Jeff Merkley warning, "Citizens generally assume our government is not spying on them. If they had any inkling of how this system really works, the details of which I cannot discuss, they would be profoundly appalled."

EFF urges that people tweet their opposition to fast-tracking renewal of the snooping legislation, because tweets are seen and passed on more quickly than email of phone calls:

Hey @McConnellPress and @SenatorReid: Don't ram through a 5-year extension on FISA Amendments Act.

You can also send emails urging debate on the FISA extension from EFF's Action Center or use Free Press's call-in tool (yes, yes, I know … but you can use the organization's Website for a good cause, anyway).