TheBlaze’s Liz Klimas contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Congress has voted to renew the government’s authority to monitor electronic communications of foreigners abroad.
It’s a classified program to identify terrorists and spies without getting court orders for each intercept. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act program was on the brink of expiring by year’s end.
But the Senate on Friday approved a five-year extension by a 73-23 vote and sent the bill to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.
Lawmakers rejected arguments from an unusual combination of Democratic liberals and ideological Republican conservatives. They demanded to know about any Americans whose communications were swept up in the foreign intercepts.
The intelligence community and leaders of the Senate’s intelligence committee say the information is classified and oppose the disclosure.
Privacy and civil rights advocates, like the American Civil Liberties Union, have spoken out against the reauthorization act. In a recent blog post about the act, the ACLU criticized the law for allowing monitoring of “American communications without meaningful judicial oversight and without probable cause or any finding of wrongdoing.” It called for those in the House to demand those in the Obama administration disclose the following information, which they should then take into account before, reauthorizing FISA:
- Copies of FISA court opinions interpreting our Fourth Amendment rights under the FAA, with redactions to protect sensitive information (the Department of Justice can write summaries of law if necessary);
- A rough estimate of how many Americans are surveilled under the FAA every year;
- A description of the rules that govern how American information picked up by FAA surveillance is protected.
“Can you believe that 435 members of Congress who have sworn to uphold the Constitution are about to vote on a sweeping intelligence gathering law without this basic information?” the ACLU’s Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson wrote.
TheBlaze reported earlier this year senators asking the National Security Administration for the number of people spied upon through this program were issued a response from the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence I. Charles McCullough. The response said not only that the information regarding that is classified but also that divulging it could violate the privacy of persons spied upon.
The amendment was brought to the floor under a closed ruling, meaning no amendments were allowed to be made to it. OBM Watch calls it “troubling” that the House seems to have “fast tracked” reauthorization of this act in September.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. said, “While it’s certainly appropriate for our government to gather foreign intelligence and while some degree of secrecy is necessary, it’s also vital in a free society that we limit government, protect the constitutional rights of Americans here and abroad, and limit warrantless spying to genuine foreign intelligence.
“Unfortunately we have seen repeatedly how even the very minimal restraints Congress put on FISA have been violated,” Nadler said. “We should address those abuses. Congress has an obligation to exert more control over spy agencies than simply to give them a blank check for another five years.”
The act has drawn harsh criticism from the Left and Right alike. As liberal outlet Salon.com put it Thursday: “The FISA Amendments Act makes a joke of the entire Fourth Amendment ‘warrant’ requirement, as the government now can seek ‘programmatic warrants’ that allow them to indiscriminately collect massive amounts of data from broadly defined ‘targets’ over the course of a year.”