By a vote of 68-29 (with three individuals — Senators Kennedy, McCain, and Sessions– not voting), the U.S. Senate joined the U.S. House in passing the FISA Amendments Act. This legislation is fundamentally flawed and unreasonably and unnecessarily authorizes broad surveillance of Americans’ international communications without meaningful Fourth Amendment protections, as I have detailed several times before.
It is deeply disappointing that both the House and Senate caved into the Bush Administration’s demands and fearmongering. The FISA Amendments Act greatly expands the secret surveillance powers of the federal government. The Act also confers retroactive immunity upon the telecommunications companies that participated in the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Before passing the legislation, senators voted against several amendments that would have modified or removed the telecom immunity provision.
The Bingaman Amendment: "To stay pending cases against certain telecommunications companies and provide that such companies may not seek retroactive immunity until 90 days after the date the final report of the Inspectors General on the President’s Surveillance Program is submitted to Congress."
The Dodd Amendment: To strike the retroactive immunity provision entirely.
The Specter Amendment: "To limit retroactive immunity for providing assistance to the United States to instances in which a Federal court determines the assistance was provided in connection with an intelligence activity that was constitutional."
As Wired explains:
If the FISA Amendments Act survives constitutional challenge, it dooms the dozens of anti-wiretapping lawsuits filed against the nation’s telecoms, by ordering the judge in charge of the cases to dismiss them if the telecoms can prove the government asked them to help out.
Those suits seek billions in damages for alleged massive violations of communication privacy laws, and seek to prevent companies from participating again in the future without proper court orders.
Read statements from the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for National Security Studies (pdf), and Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read a letter (pdf) to Congress from Privacy Lives and other groups urging against passage of the FISA Amendments Act. More coverage at the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wired.