Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) stipulates procedures for the surveillance of persons in the US for foreign intelligence purposes. The 1978 law provided the “exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the inception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.” The Bush Administration, however, did not follow FISA, as the law requires court approval, and considered it to be an nuisance when considering the need for immediate intelligence. The warrantless wiretapping carried out by the National Security Agency after 9.11 has been criticized as a violation of the Fourth Amendment and of FISA.

The 2008 provisions make changes to the existing FISA authorities and procedures prevent delay in wiretapping. The changes are designed to allow surveillance to move faster from the field to the FISA Court for oversight, modernize electronic surveillance authority to prevent attacks, and to ensure that America gets the vital intelligence it needs while preserving the individualized judicial review necessary to protect American’s legitimate privacy rights.

Senator Obama was among a few Democrats who supported the new FISA Bill after initial reservations, claiming that is sworn in as President, he would have "the attorney general conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs" and take the necessary steps to "preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”

Senator McCain was out campaigning during the debate on the bill and its amendments. It passed by a 69-28 vote without him. The McCain camp used Obama's seeming reversal in their favor, emphasizing McCain's consistency and commitment to a promise.

As the bill effectively allows for warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity, additionally blocking numerous lawsuits intended to expose abuses of power by the federal government since 9.11, many have criticized its passing.


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