December 28, 2012
The US Senate has voted to approve the FAA Sunsets Extension Act of 2012, which will authorize warrantless surveillance of Americans for counter-terrorism purposes for another five years. The bill extends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, which granted retroactive immunity for wiretaps and email monitoring under the Bush Administration and created a framework for future warrant-free surveillance as long as one party is located outside the US and terrorism is suspected.
Whistleblowers like former NSA codebreaker William Binney have long since revealed that surveillance programs catch hundreds of thousands of American citizens in their dragnet. But attempts to criticize the law have been blocked by the fact that no one — including the Senate’s intelligence committee — is allowed to know much of anything about how it actually works. That means this vote represented the last chance for Congress to enact meaningful review of surveillance activities for the next five years.
The final Senatorial vote was 73 in favor and 23 against. The bill already passed the House of Representatives in September, with 301 voting for and 118 against. Now, it will proceed to the desk of President Obama, who said earlier this year that his administration “strongly” supported the House bill and its ability to “ensure the continued availability of this critical intelligence capability.” That means it’s on track to be extended just before the original law expires on December 31st.