August 6, 2007 1:40 PM PDT
FAQ: How far does the new wiretap law go?
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What are groups that support privacy and individual rights saying about all of this?
American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero said: "That a Democratically-controlled Senate would be strong-armed by the Bush administration is astonishing. This Congress may prove to be as spineless in standing up to the Bush administration as the one that enacted the Patriot Act or the Military Commissions Act."
The Cato Institute's Tim Lynch wrote: "If a member of Congress does not support the proposal under consideration, it means he or she is too 'soft.' Even though we're about six years past 9/11 and even with the track record of Attorney General Gonzales, most legislators put their reservations aside, curl up into the fetal position and say 'I am against the terrorists too,' as they vote in favor."
What do telephone companies think about this new law?
A: Representatives from Quest, Verizon and AT&T--which has hinted in the past about how it could be required to cooperate with the NSA--declined to comment. Last year, AT&T accidentally leaked information in a legal brief that sought to offer benign reasons why a San Francisco switching center would provide a mechanism to monitor Internet and telephone traffic.
McConnell told Democratic congressional leaders in a private meeting late last week that some major telecommunications firms are concerned about the law's provision that could force them to cooperate with law enforcement based on orders from the attorney general or the DNI, a Democratic congressional aide told News.com. The companies reportedly indicated they would rather comply with a court-sanctioned warrant.
Why is the Bush administration making such a fuss about getting these new powers, anyway? Doesn't it already believe programs like the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program are already legal?
It's true that the Bush administration has steadfastly defended the legality of a National Security Agency undertaking publicly known as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program," which officials have indicated in recent weeks is just one of many such intelligence programs that the government has been operating. More broadly, the administration has been agitating with increasing urgency over the past year or so for changes to FISA because it claims the law has become outmoded, delaying critical intelligence collection.
FISA said that investigators generally must obtain warrants from a secret court before tapping into communications with foreigners that originate in the United States. But intelligence officials have argued that because communications today are often physically routed through American soil, distinguishing between calls and e-mails that occur inside and outside the country only stymies their efforts to snoop on suspects. "Simply due to technology changes since 1978, court approval should not now be required for gathering intelligence from foreigners located overseas," McConnell said in a recent statement.
Opponents to such changes, such as the ACLU, argue that FISA has already been updated dozens of times since 1978 and that the justifications for further tweaks offered by the Bush administration are really just looking for new ways to wiretap Americans without a warrant.
Which presidential candidates voted for or against the wiretapping bill?
Voting against the bill: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd and Dennis Kucinich.
Voting for the bill: Republican Sam Brownback.
John McCain and Ron Paul did not vote, but based on his congressional record and public statements, Paul would have likely opposed the legislation. The Senate voting results and House of Representatives results are now online.
Did the votes in the U.S. Congress fall mostly along party lines?
Yes. In the Senate vote on Friday night, not one Republican joined the 28 Democrats who voted against the measure, though 15 Democrats were among the 60 members who voted for the bill.
Some Democrats who voted to approve the bill indicated they did so based on the experience of members of their party who are on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "They chose to give significant weight and deference to the intelligence community on FISA reform, and so did I," freshman Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said in a statement.
On the House side, 41 Democrats joined the 186 Republicans voting for the bill's passage, while just two Republicans joined the 181 Democrats opposing it.
What happens when this thing expires? Is there any chance it'll be replaced with something different before then?
Both supporters and opponents of the law already have begun publicizing their hopes for the next version of the law. "Our work is not done," President Bush said in a statement after signing the bill--which he characterized as a "temporary, narrowly focused statute"--on Sunday. He called for "comprehensive reform," singling out "the important issue of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001." He was almost undoubtedly referring to shielding the telephone companies that allegedly assisted the government in a less-than-legal way.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, has already sent a letter to fellow Democrats Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, instructing them to craft a new bill that "responds comprehensively to the administration's proposal while addressing the many deficiencies" in the approved law.
Details on that new proposal weren't immediately clear, but a Conyers representative said the chairmen "will want to move swiftly on introducing and moving the legislation in September."
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