Christmas may be over, but the Senate is still singing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” In a 73 to 23 vote on Friday, Senators renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act for another five years. The extension continues the authorization the government has to conduct warrantless wiretaps of communications that Americans conduct with foreign intelligence targets abroad.
With strong bipartisan support led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D - Calif.) chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and President Obama promising to sign it, the extension has less media buzz than it did when it first went through Congress during the Bush years. Still, that hasn’t changed the controversial and potentially unconstitutional nature of the bill.
Ideologically, nothing has really changed. People support or oppose the law for mostly the same reasons as they did in 2008. Civil liberties advocates continue to assert that FISA constitutes an illegal invasion of privacy, especially because the wiretappings are all conducted under blanket approval issued yearly by a special FISA court whose documentation is classified. The lack of transparency has only made opponents of the law further question the validity of the rationale intelligence gatherers may be using.