In a move sure to upset privacy advocates across the country, and perhaps spark action from the Supreme Court, the Senate on Friday morning passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by a vote of 73-23 and will send it to President Obama's desk for signature. FISA allows the government to tap any conversation involving U.S. citizens without previously obtaining a warrant, as long as officials suspect those talks involve at least one person located outside of the United States. The bill passed the House in September, led to contentious arguments on the Senate floor this week, and extends a modern debate that became especially heated in the Bush era as the National Security Agency extended its powers without court regulation. Wired's David Kravets explains the details of the latest legislation:
The FISA Amendments Act generally requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, a secret tribunal set up in the wake of President Richard M. Nixon-era eavesdropping, to rubber-stamp terror-related electronic surveillance requests. The government does not have to identify the target or facility to be monitored. It can begin surveillance a week before making the request, and the surveillance can continue during the appeals process if, in a rare case, the secret FISA court rejects the surveillance application.
Secret tribunals? Spying? Why would this matter if the only international calls are (speaking from personal experience) the ones you're making to your Filipino grandma talking about her day? Salon's Alex Pareene details the big-picture of why FISA is so tricky:
The FISA Amendments Act makes a joke of the entire Fourth Amendment “warrant” requirement, as the government now can seek “programmatic warrants” that allow them to indiscriminately collect massive amounts of data from broadly defined “targets” over the course of a year.
There is a tiny sliver hope if you aren't a fan of FISA and really like the Fourth Amendment. As The Verge's Adi Robertson reports, there have have been efforts to get the Supreme Court involved.
The EFF, ACLU, and other organizations are fighting to get the US Supreme Court to consider the issue — most recently, the Court heard oral arguments about whether or not a future case could be brought. The NSA, meanwhile, has argued against the suit and refused to release information about the scope of its program.
For now though, we're on track to five more years of warrantless wiretapping.