– Warrantless wiretaps? Congress votes yes (Ars Technica, Dec 28, 2012):
Secret surveillance courts will live on in 2013, and beyond.
US Senators from both parties overwhelmingly approved a bill this morning that will authorize warrantless wiretaps, throughout 2013 and for four years beyond that.
Supporters of the bill, including Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA), insisted it should be passed without amendment, in order to avoid having it sent back to the House of Representatives for approval. The current authorization for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts would have expired on Jan. 1.
Wyden’s amendment would have applied a bare modicum of transparency to the FISA Amendments Act, which allows the government to intercept international communications of Americans without a warrant. The defeated amendment would have required reports to Congress about whether any wholly domestic communications were picked up by NSA wiretapping.
It follows the consideration of three sensible amendments yesterday which also would have limited the impact of the bill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment that would have required warrants for tapping into e-mail; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) wanted Americans to at least be able to read the opinions of the FISA court, which are currently secret; and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wanted the FISA courts to be approved for just three years, rather than five. All of those amendments were defeated, as well.
“I know where this goes,” Feinstein said yesterday, describing the Wyden amendment. “Where it goes is to destroy the program.” She also raised the spectre of more terrorist attacks in justifying the program. “There is a view of some that this country no longer needs to fear attacks,” Feinstein said. “I don’t share that view.”