Senate Renews FISA Warrantless Wiretapping Program

The secretive surveillance bill is now sent to President Obama to sign

by John Glaser, December 28, 2012

The US Senate on Friday reauthorized the warrantless wiretapping program started under President George W. Bush by a 73 to 23 vote, easily evading the several amendments proposed to check its dangerous surveillance powers.

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 authorized broad, warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications, checked only by a secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that doesn’t make it’s activities and procedures available to the public.

Even though the government has acknowledged that the secretive program has exceeded its legal limits, violating Americans’ Fourth Amendment constitutional rights, the Obama administration has aggressively pushed for its full renewal.

When the law was passed in 2008 it amended the Bush administration’s initial program and broadened powers for domestic surveillance. President Obama was a presidential candidate at the time, and warned that, while he was voting for its passage, it “does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush’s abuse of executive power.”

However, as President Obama has fully embraced the unchecked executive powers and secretive surveillance capabilities built into the FISA Amendment. And the controversy that the bill conjured in 2008 is contrasted with the subdued acceptance of it in 2012.

“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.

Several tame amendment were proposed by Senators Ron Wyden, Rand Paul, and Jeff Merkely to try and rein in the surveillance program. But they were all rejected, and the Obama administration has refused to release any further information about it.

“The only thing the public really knows about it so far,” writes Julian Sanchez, a policy scholar at the Cato Institute, “is that it was almost immediately misused, resulting in ‘significant and systemic’ overcollection of Americans’ purely domestic communications. Subsequent reporting revealed that the improperly ‘overcollected’ communications could number in the millions, and included former president Clinton’s private e-mails. So naturally, the Senate is charging ahead toward the renewal of these sweeping powers without hearings or debate.”

As the American for Civil Liberties Union has explained, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says “it isn’t even ‘reasonably possible’ to estimate how many Americans are swept up in the NSA’s expansive dragnet.”

The Obama administration, as is usual in cases where they disregard the Constitution, promises this mass surveillance comes with strong safeguards and accountability. In reality, the war on terrorism is continuing to be used to justify major infringements on the civil liberties of Americans.

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