Congress Rejects Privacy Amendments, Approves Continued Wiretapping

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The Senate today renewed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the bill widely seen as legalizing warrantless wiretapping, for five more years with a 73-23 vote.

The Senate also voted down four amendments that would have made law enforcement actions accountable, in limited ways, to Congress. One would simply have asked law enforcement agencies to provide an estimate to Congress of how many American citizens’ communications may have been intercepted.

The FISA law was originally established to create a process through which law enforcement agencies could obtain, without public disclosure, warrants to monitor potential foreign agents in the United States. Amendments have subsequently stretched the process to apply to those without explicit government backing and to allow for surveillance without a warrant in some circumstances.

The government is said to have used the law to monitor domestic Internet traffic, a practice which was hotly contested during the Bush administration.

“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, legislative counsel at the ACLU.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the program “a blight on our nation and our Constitution” in a blog post about today’s vote.

The FISA Amendments Act passed the House in September. It now goes to the president, who is expected to sign it.

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