Senate Judiciary Committee passes Specter/Cheney Spy Bill
A bill radically redefining and expanding the government's ability to eavesdrop and search the houses of U.S. citizens without court approval passed a key Senate committee Wednesday, and may be voted on by the full Senate as early as next week.
By a 10-8 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB2453, the National Security Surveillance Act (.pdf), which was co-written by committee's chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) in concert with the White House.
The committee also passed two other surveillance measures, including one from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), one of the few senators to be briefed on the National Security Agency program. Feinstein's bill, which Specter co-sponsored before submitting another bill, rebuffs the administration's legal arguments and all but declares the warrantless wiretapping illegal.
In contrast, Specter's bill concedes the government's right to wiretap Americans without warrants, and allows the U.S. Attorney General to authorize, on his own, dragnet surveillance of Americans so long as the stated purpose of the surveillance is to monitor suspected terrorists or spies.
Some things that Specter said:
Specter, who called NSA's warrantless surveillance a "festering sore on our body politic," champions his bill, since it allows, but does nor require, the administration to submit the whole surveillance program to review by a secretive court. Specter says President Bush promised to submit the NSA program to the court, if the bill passes.
The bill also strikes from U.S. law a requirement that all surveillance of suspected spies and terrorists be done in accordance with FISA. But an aide for Specter disputes that this radically changes FISA or the balance of powers: Specter considers this to be an update to FISA that moves the law toward where technology is now, according to the aide, who spoke on background.
It scares me how naive this Arlen Specter character is.
It scares me that this bill actually made it this far.
But here's the real scary part. These are some tidbits about what the bill actually does:
- Redefines surveillance so that only programs that catch the substance of a communication need oversight. Any government surveillance that captures, analyzes and stores patterns of communications such as phone records, or e-mail and website addresses, is no longer considered surveillance.
- Expands the section of law that allows the attorney general to authorize spying on foreign embassies, so long as there's no "substantial likelihood" that an American's communication would be captured.
- Repeals the provision of federal law that allows the government unfettered wiretapping and physical searches without warrants or notification for 15 days after a declaration of war. The lack of any congressional restraint on the president's wartime powers arguably puts the president at the height, rather than the ebb, of his powers in any time of war, even an undeclared one.
- Repeals the provision of federal law that limits the government's wartime powers to conduct warrantless wiretapping and physical searches to a period of 15 days after a declaration of war.
- Repeals the provision of federal law that puts a time limit on the government's wartime powers to conduct warrantless wiretapping and physical searches against Americans. Under current law, the president has that power for only 15 days following a declaration of war.
- Allows the attorney general, or anyone he or she designates, to authorize widespread domestic spying, such as monitoring all instant-messaging systems in the country, so long as the government promises to delete anything not terrorism-related.
- Moves all court challenges to the NSA surveillance program to a secretive court in Washington, D.C., comprised of judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Only government lawyers would be allowed in the courtroom.
Allows the government to get warrants for surveillance programs as a whole, instead of having to describe to a judge the particular persons to be monitored and the methods to be used.
I would write more detailed comments about this, but I just wanted to share one thing with you guys:
I sent emails to my senators about this bill a month ago - if I remember correctly, I sent them through the ACLU. Anyway, I got a response a couple of days ago, and I thought I'd share it with you guys.
Here's the response:
Thank you . . .
. . for contacting me about the electronic surveillance of people in the United States by the National Security Agency (NSA). I share your serious concerns about this program.
In December, President Bush acknowledged that he had authorized the NSA to monitor communications, including phone calls and emails, involving American citizens living in the United States. These intercepts were conducted without a court-issued warrant or judicial oversight. The Administration has not disclosed how many Americans were targeted, but newspapers have reported numbers in the thousands.
It is critical that we relentlessly pursue terrorists that seek to do us harm. However, we must make sure that we do not undermine the very rights and way of life that we are seeking to protect. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act clearly states that the Administration must obtain a warrant before electronic surveillance is conducted on US citizens. The NSA program seems to directly violate this law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon begin a bipartisan investigation of this matter. In addition, the NSA's Inspector General is investigating the legality of this program. Please be assured that I will support strong congressional oversight and closely monitor any new developments on this issue.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to do so again whenever I can be of assistance to you and your family.
United States Senator
So, as you can see, writing to my senators has gotten some results. Therefore, I encourage everybody out there reading this to get your congressperson's email address or regular address and write to them about the Specter/Cheney spy bill, immediately. It does work.