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Wednesday, 13 September 2006 08:48

NSA Warantless Wiretapping Approval Passes Senate Judiciary Committee in Party Line Vote

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The Senate Judiciary Committee passed three bills relating to the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance program today. The only one to attract bipartisan support was an act sponsored by a Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The main bill - written in consultation with the White House and introduced by Republican Senator Arlen Specter - passed on a party line vote, 10-8.

According to Bloomberg.com:

Specter's legislation wouldn't require Bush to submit the NSA program to a secret court for review. Still, the president agreed to do so if Congress passes the measure in the form approved today in the committee. The president wouldn't have to stop the eavesdropping program even if the court objects.

The Committee's vote comes less than a month after a federal judge found the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program illegal and unconstitutional. The ruling has not been overturned.

"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," summed up Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Patrick Leahy.

Leahy said the Republican plan also introduces the concept of "program warrants" which would allow a single judge in the secret FISA court to approve broad programs of surveillance instead of continuing to rule only in individual cases. This is made even easier because, should the NSA lose in a proceeding where it is already the only party arguing, the government could appeal any denial to a judge of its choosing for a favorable result.

According to Sen. Russ Feingold, existing law provides enough latitude to effectively monitor terrorist communications. "For nearly 30 years, FISA has allowed surveillance of potential terrorists and others, with the approval of a judge in most cases to make sure this power is not abused," he said. "Expanding executive power at the request of a president who has shown such deep disrespect for the rule of law is exactly the wrong thing to do."

Republican leaders plan to schedule a vote in the full Senate before the next month's recess to campaign for the mid-term elections.