Law affords government warrantless eavesdropping

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118659074515140.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of‘, ‘Some argued that in signing S.1927, President George W. Bush would give too much authority without enough judicial oversight to embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (pictured).‘);

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) voted for bill that expands government’s power to eavesdrop

The U.S. government now has the power to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails without first getting a warrant or taking cases before a court.

President George W. Bush signed into law Aug. 5 Senate Bill 1927, which amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 by expanding the government’s power to eavesdrop—without a warrant—on phone calls and e-mails the government says concern a person abroad.

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) voted for the measure, which passed the House 227-183 Aug. 4 and the Senate 60-28 Aug. 3.

Despite a 29-seat lead in the House and a two-seat lead in the Senate, Democrats—many of whom said they were against the bill and promised to change it—failed to either make changes to the bill or stop its passage. Forty-one Democrats in the House voted for the bill.

The law, which expires in six months, provides broader power to the National Security Agency in collecting information without taking individual cases before a secret national security court that was established in 1978 by FISA. Under the new law, federal agents need only show suspects are likely outside the country to begin surveillance of phone calls and e-mails that pass through the United States. The government will need to seek a warrant when it becomes clear intercepted phone calls and e-mails involve a person in the United States.

Some argued the law will give too much authority without enough judicial oversight to National Director of Intelligence Mike McConnell and embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that they believed Gonzales had proven to be unworthy of such authority.

“It does not contain adequate safeguards to protect the rights of Americans,” they wrote. “Congress is treading into new territory with this proposal, and it is essential that we make clear to the executive branch and the FISA court that Congress wants strict controls on any new surveillance authorities that could involve eavesdropping on people in the United States.”

Reid, who voted against the bill, said of S.1927: “It authorizes the attorney general to conduct warrantless surveillance and searches of Americans’ phone calls, e-mails, homes, offices and personal records for at least three months and for however long an appeal to the Court of Review and the Supreme Court takes. This process could take months, or indeed, years.

“Even worse,” Reid continued, “the search does not have to be ‘directed’ abroad—just ‘concerning a person abroad.’ Any search—any search—inside the U.S. that the government can claim to be ‘concerning’ al-Qaeda is authorized. I do not believe this is the right way, the strong way, or the constitutional way to fight the war on terror.”

Some also claim the law is in conflict with the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In signing the bill, Bush said: “Over the past three decades, this law has not kept pace with revolutionary changes in technology. As a result, our intelligence professionals have told us that they are missing significant intelligence information that they need to protect the country.

“S.1927 reforms FISA by accounting for changes in technology and restoring the statute to its original focus on appropriate protections for the rights of persons in the United States—and not foreign targets located in foreign lands.

“Today, we face a dynamic threat from enemies who understand how to use modern technology against us,” Bush continued. “Whether foreign terrorists, hostile nations, or other actors, they change their tactics frequently and seek to exploit the very openness and freedoms we hold dear. Our tools to deter them must also be dynamic and flexible enough to meet the challenges they pose. This law gives our intelligence professionals this greater flexibility while closing a dangerous gap in our intelligence-gathering activities that threatened to weaken our defenses.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush secretly authorized warrantless wiretapping. In January, the administration agreed to obtain warrants from a FISA court and began pushing Congress to amend the law.

Both Illinois senators Dick Durbin (D) and Barack Obama (D), who is running for president, voted against the bill. In the House, congressmen from Illinois voted as follows:

For the bill: Melissa Bean (D-8), Judy Biggert (R-13), Mark Steven Kirk (R-10), Daniel Lipinski (D-3), Manzullo, Peter Roskam (R-6), John Shimkus (R-19) and Jerry Weller (R-11).

Against the bill: Jerry F. Costello (D-12), Danny K. Davis (D-7), Rahm Emanuel (D-5), Luis V. Gutierrez (D-4), Phil Hare (D-17), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2), Timothy V. Johnson (R-15), Bobby L. Rush (D-1) and Jan Schakowsky (D-9).

Did not vote: Dennis J. Hastert (R-14) and Ray LaHood (R-18).

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) was the only presidential candidate who voted for the bill. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and senators Obama, Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) voted against the bill while representatives Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not vote.

from the Aug 8-14, 2007, issue

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