Senate Approves Intelligence Reform And, With It, Telecom Amnesty
from the oversight-is-for-your-phone-calls dept
Several other amendments that would have provided additional checks on surveillance also failed in the Senate, including language reasserting FISA's status as the "exclusive means" by which intelligence surveillance may be conducted, a provision barring indiscriminate "bulk collection" of telecom traffic, and a compromise measure that would have allowed civil suits against the telecoms to continue, but substituted the federal government as the defendant. The one victory for civil libertarians was the approval of an amendment offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) permitting the secret FISA court to review intelligence agencies' compliance with "minimization" rules meant to limit the retention of communications involving innocent Americans. Following a vote to invoke cloture, bringing debate on the bill to a halt and foreclosing any attempt to mount a filibuster, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) delivered impassioned speeches condemning the legislation as an affront to both privacy and the rule of law.
The Senate bill must now be reconciled in conference with the House version, known as the RESTORE Act, which lacks the controversial immunity provision and provides for greater judicial oversight of surveillance. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is seeking to further extend the stopgap Protect America Act, which this reform bill is meant to supplant, in order to provide time to reach agreement between the two chambers.