September 14, 2006 12:23 PM PDT

Controversial spy bill advances in Senate

The chairman of a key U.S. Senate panel on Thursday called for swift passage of a controversial bill criticized as an expansion of the government's electronic spying powers.

The pitch from Sen. Arlen Specter on the Senate floor arrived one day after Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee gave the green light to his National Security Surveillance Act, touted as a compromise with the White House to verify the constitutionality of programs like the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program. The vote, which had stalled for several weeks, was 10 to 8 along party lines.

"We will be moving ahead, I hope shortly, with the bill to the floor so that we can make a determination on judicial review procedure (and) whatever wiretapping that is going on is judicially approved," Specter said during a brief floor speech.

The Pennsylvania Republican has repeatedly hailed the agreement as a strong symbol that the president does not have a "blank check" to operate programs such as the NSA snooping initiated by the Bush Administration, which critics charge has swept up the Internet and phone activities of millions of innocent Americans.

Even though the legislation does not explicitly require it, Specter maintained that he has President Bush's pledge to submit the existing NSA program for closed-door constitutional vetting. A legislative mandate for the president to take such action would be undesirable because such a move would "curtail his constitutional authority," Specter said.

Democrats and civil liberties groups continued to blast the effort.

"This bill is all about authorizing the president to invade the homes, e-mails and telephone conversations of American citizens in ways that are expressly forbidden by law," Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who serves as the committee's co-chairman, said in a statement Wednesday.

"Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee acted as a rubber stamp for the administration's abuse of power," Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, said in a statement.

Opponents maintained the bill (click here for Microsoft Word document) is a sham that makes it optional for the Bush administration and all future administrations to comply with the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which generally requires a court order for eavesdropping on communications in which at least one end is located in the United States.

The measure, among other things, would insert a new provision into the FISA, stating that nothing in the law "shall be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the president to collect intelligence with respect to foreign powers and agents of foreign powers."

Critics also argued that the measure erodes Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by allowing the FISA court to issue blanket approval for an entire surveillance program, rather than for individual, targeted wiretaps.

"That's not what we need to win the war on terror," Jim Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a statement. "We should focus on the bad guys, not conduct broad sweeps into the lives of ordinary citizens."

It was not immediately clear how the Senate panel's action will affect the House of Representatives, where debate continues over separate bills designed to "modernize" FISA. It was also unclear how the Specter bill will mesh with two similar measures also cleared by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

In particular, civil liberties groups and Democrats say they prefer the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Improvement and Enhancement Act of 2006, co-sponsored by Specter and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. That measure, which is designed to streamline procedures for applying for FISA court warrants but reaffirms that law's authority over domestic surveillance, passed by 10 votes to 8, with all Democrats and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voting in favor.

Specter on Thursday dismissed as "untrue" any contention that the bills are inconsistent.

See more CNET content tagged:
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, NSA, Democrat, bill, president


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Why not just do what they are working towards?
A complete authoritarian system to placate the cowards in our country..

We have turned into a nation of cowards, and have become exactly what we fought against in the 20th century: tyrants.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If not wanting to be killed by terrorists who are motivated by a religious mandate to kill non-Muslims is being cowardly.... then call me yellow.

An authoritarian system? HARDLY. But for some people, there is no middle ground between the "freedom" to kill your neighbor, and the preservation of human rights.

As far as tyrany... we aren't even close to the abuses that drove our founding citizens out of Europe to America.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
This bill is completely unconstitutional.
This is suppose to be a free country, this bill goes against not only our natural laws but also that of the 4th amendment. If this bill ever did pass, the majority of the people would not put up with it and in the end it would cause more trouble then it was worth. You give anyone a little power and in due time they will abuse it.
Posted by Rikallos_Lykoudis (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This bill is completely unconstitutional.
This is supposed to be a free country; this bill goes against not only our natural laws but also that of the 4th amendment. If this bill ever did pass, the majority of the people would not put up with it and in the end it would cause more trouble then it was worth. You give anyone a little power and in due time they will abuse it.
The only thing that this bill would really do is prove that congress no longer represents the people but represents their own bios views.
Posted by Rikallos_Lykoudis (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh no
Oh no, merely a bill to legalize, that which the current arbitrary and autocratic government of chicken george , the draft dodger who has an undeclared war on his own people(all disent is to be treated as both treason and disloyalty to the regime), has already authorized anyway!

The time to impeach the man is now well overdue, since he has decided that both the constitution and all congressional laws do not apply to either himself or his minions, and they are above the law as well!

Choices, is the land of the free and the brave, now under direct rule rather than constitutional law? from the inept, the defective and the incompetent who reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave DC?
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Specter of Specter as Enabler-In-Chief
The creation and backing of this legislation by Sen. Specter firmly places him back in the ranks of the vast majority of fellow Republicans who have shirked all responsibility in fulfilling their Constitutional responsibilities. After first speaking against the Administration's surveillance actions which appear to be illegal he now campaigns as chief enabler. Instead of acting to get to the bottom of possible abuses and criminality he offers a way to legalize it- vastly increase the power and scope of the Executive Branch and erosion of privacy rights. In addition Pres. Bush demands legislation watering down accountability for government sanctioned mistreatment and interrogation of foreign prisoners. He claims such interrogation is essential and has led to important intelligence that has prevented attacks on US targets. Meanwhile a Congressional Intelligence report just released after years of Republican obstruction reveals that unreliable intelligence extracted by dubious means was largely the basis for the now discredited claims made by the Bush Administration in it's rationalization for waging war in Iraq.
What we are sadly presented with is overwhelming evidence of an Administration that has made and continues to make profoundly poor decisions in a vast array of interrelated issues dealing with national defense and the powers of the Executive Branch. Many of the statements asserted in defense of policy decisions have now been revealed to have been made at a time with evidence to the contrary at their disposal. Also the willful ignorance and seeming inability to learn from their mistakes is deeply troubling. Their response to finding themselves in a hole has been to keep digging. Clearly Bush has no credibility left. Congress has no spine. Instead of trying to find ways to further subvert the Constitution Congress should be holding hearings on Impeachment for a vast and disgusting assortment of criminality perpetrated by this thuggish regime.
Posted by zanzzz (138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Damned if ya do... Damned if ya don't
If they don't... they'll be held responsible for ineffective information gathering which was unable to prevent the next terrorist attack.

If they do... they'll be held responsible for reniging on privacy.

Bottom Line: If terrorism wins... we won't have any privacy what so ever.

Don't ask them to fight a war with no bullets in their guns.

We lost Vietnam because of this same bi-partisian BS!!!

Don't make the same mistake again!!!

Hackers and evil do'ers already have access to the same information which we're trying to prevent our government from getting.

We need something to even the odds out... this is the evener... thus don't remove it!!!

BOTTOM LINE: If one wants privacy... DON'T browse the internet... because privacy IS NOT GUARANTEEED!!!

Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.