Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:46 PM
JReed (149 posts)
A Few Senators Take a Stand for Civil Liberties Ahead of Surveillance Law Reauthorization
A surveillance law that granted the government expanded authority to collect the communications of foreign persons outside the United States four years ago is set to expire in four days unless reauthorized. On Thursday, senators concerned about how the law has been interpreted in secret and how these secret interpretations permit the collection or interception of Americans’ communications put forward amendments to the reauthorization and were permitted to engage in what passes for debate in Congress these days.
The US Senate has known for months that it had to meet a deadline to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act and the reauthorization was ready in September for debate being squeezed in today. In fact, it was not a guarantee that the Senate would even allow amendments to the reauthorization that might call for additional oversight or greater privacy protections. But Sens. Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Rand Paul, Mark Udall and a few others pushed back and convinced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow time for debate.
Merkley suggested this debate should have happened months ago so it could happen in a “full and responsible manner” without pressure to “vote against amendments in order to address the falsely created issue of partnering with the House bill.” He noted this was a “single-day debate” in between holidays “when few Americans will be paying attention,” but, nonetheless, it was important to have this debate about how it could be strengthened to protect privacy.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said during floor debate, “We have four days to get this bill signed by the president or this section ceases to function. Four days. This is a House bill before us. It reauthorizes the program to 2017.” She suggested that trying to pass amendments and failing to meet this deadline could “destroy the program.” Like Vice President Dick Cheney, she talked about how she believed the country still faced a threat, there were people who wanted to kill Americans, and intelligence functions needed to be streamlined to ensure next attack didn’t happen. Flustered, she said, “You put all this out in public and the next thing is more, more and more and then the program is destroyed.” And, prior to these remarks, she highlighted all the terrorists arrested in the past year.
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