Earlier this week, EFF reported that many Senators were trying to avoid debate on the expiring FISA Amendments Act, which hands the NSA broad powers to warrantlessly spy on Americans who communicate with anyone abroad. The 2008 law is set to expire on December 31 and despite its huge implications for civil liberties, the Senate is poised to vote on it without any changes.
US citizens deserve debate over the law and Senators should be able to offer amendments to fix its worst problems. As we described earlier this week, the bill’s powers are sweeping and dangerous:
The FISA Amendments Act continues to be controversial; key portions of it were challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. In brief, the law allows the government to get secret FISA court orders—orders that do not require probable cause like regular warrants—for any emails or phone calls going to and from overseas. The communications only have to deal with "foreign intelligence information," a broad term that can mean virtually anything. And one secret FISA order can be issued against groups or categories of people—potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans at once.
Commendably, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled yesterday he’d like to bring the bill to the floor for debate, including amendments by Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. The amendments would force the NSA to give an estimate how many Americans how been spied on as a result of the bill, and bring some oversight to how the law is carried out.
Senator Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the bill for months and demanded such steps are needed to know whether the bill should be authorized or not. Currently, Senator Reid says he is in negotiations with all parties to see if he can bring it to the floor for debate before the vote. In addition, Sen. Merkley also made it clear on HuffPost Live that some lawmakers would "oppose cloture" on the FISA Amendments Act reauthorization "unless a number of amendments are considered and debated."
Unfortunately, some Senators want no debate at all. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss suggested the Senate should just vote on the (awful) House bill, extending the FISA Amendments Act for another five years, given there was little time left. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has also signaled she wants the Senate to just vote on the House bill with no changes.
However, as Merkley put it, lawmakers "didn't accidentally stumble on this." They knew this deadline was approaching all year. "Without public knowledge of what's collected, and exactly the process by which a warrant is obtained or if it's obtained," Merkley told the Huffington Post. "We really have no way to carry on this debate."
Once again, here's how you can help:
Senate communications staffers often see tweets throughout the day—unlike emails (which may not be reported for a day or more) or phone calls (which are tallied at the end of the day). So if you are on Twitter, please tweet at Senators McConnell and Reid:
Hey @McConnellPress and @SenatorReid: Don't ram through a 5-year extension on FISA Amendments Act. https://eff.org/r.2asn
Our friends at Free Press and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee are urging folks to call the Senate and voice concerns. Please use Free Press' call-in tool. You can also call Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid at (202) 224-3542 and Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at (202) 224-2541.
Use EFF's action center to email your Senators and tell them to demand a debate or vote no on warrantless domestic spying.