The U.S. Senate renewed the warrantless wiretapping program begun during the George W. Bush administration by a 73 to 23 vote on Friday, sending the FISA Amendments Act to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.
The vote marked a symbolic next step for the wiretapping program, which collects Americans' communications with foreign intelligence targets abroad. Four years ago, in the midst of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, an identical version of the bill was the subject of a highly contentious debate in the Senate. Obama and others argued then that Bush's program went too far in violating Americans' privacy. This year, with a supportive Obama in the Oval Office and the media focus on the fiscal cliff, the bill was renewed with much less attention.
After voting down reform three reform amendments on Thursday, the Senate continued debate on the spy bill on Friday morning. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) offered an amendment meant to force the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency to reveal how frequently they have collected Americans' communications as part of their efforts to amass intelligence on foreign targets. Even an estimate would suffice, Wyden has argued — but the spy agencies have rebuffed his efforts to get a general number, claiming it is not possible.
Reaction from Glenn Greenwald:
Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon along with Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul – each attempted to attach amendments to the law simply to provide some modest amounts of transparency and oversight to ensure that the government's warrantless eavesdropping powers were constrained and checked from abuse.
Just consider how modest these amendments were. Along with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. Wyden has spent two years warning Americans that the government's eavesdropping powers are being interpreted (by secret court decisions and the Executive Branch) far more broadly than they would ever suspect, and that, as a result, these eavesdropping powers are being applied far more invasively and extensively than is commonly understood.
… Merkley's amendment would compel the public release of secret judicial rulings from the FISA court which purport to interpret the scope of the eavesdropping law on the ground that "secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance"; the Obama administration has refused to release a single such opinion even though the court, "on at least one occasion", found that the government was violating the Fourth Amendment in how it was using the law to eavesdrop on Americans.