Senate Approves Expansion of Warrantless Surveillance
August 4, 2007
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WASHINGTON -- On Friday night the Senate voted to expand warrantless intelligence surveillance of international communications -- including communications between people in the United States and people abroad.
The Senate measure, which could soon be passed by the House, authorizes even broader warrantless surveillance than that permitted under the warrantless surveillance program the President approved after September 11, 2001. CDT opposes the measure, which badly weakens the law protecting innocent Americans from having their privacy violated by government dragnets.
The President's warrantless surveillance program required that one party to any intercepted communication had to be a member of Al-Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization. The legislation adopted last night would drop that requirement. It would permit warrantless surveillance of any person "reasonably believed" to be abroad, regardless of whether that person was communicating with people in the United States.
The legislation would override a decision sometime earlier this year by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which had found at least a portion of the Administration's surveillance program to be illegal.
"This bill means that it will be lawful for the government to listen in on your communications whenever you speak to a person abroad, even when you and that person are suspected of no wrongdoing and of no ties to a terrorist. No court is empowered to provide the necessary checks and balances because that eavesdropping does not even require a court order," said CDT Senior Counsel and Director of CDT's Program on Freedom, Security & Technology, Gregory T. Nojeim.
The new authority in the Senate bill would expire in 180 days. Therefore, Congress will be required to re-visit the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in February of next year. The Administration is expected at that time to push for a more comprehensive re-write of the intelligence surveillance laws.