On Friday, the Senate voted in favor of extending the controversial wiretapping legislation known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by a significant margin. The House voted in favor of the extension earlier and it is expected to be signed by President Obama.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the law known by FISA, its acronym, has helped law enforcement authorities to prevent terrorist attacks.
Feinstein said that over the last four years there were over 100 arrests to prevent something from taking place in the U.S. Some of the plots, said Feinstein, were thwarted thanks to this program and that makes it vital to our security.
Critics however, say the legislation gives the intelligence agencies broad latitude in how to conduct surveillance under the oversight of a special court run by FISA, whose proceedings are not made public.
There is an enormous risk for abuse said on critic, as the Act authorizes just what the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prevents – general warrants – blank checks in the area of surveillance.
In 2005, debate erupted across the nation when the TSP or Terrorist Surveillance Program, which had been given the original authorization by President George Bush, was revealed by the media.
Under that surveillance program, which started shortly after the attacks of 9/11, intelligence agencies were allowed to spy on any communications between people overseas and U.S. residents without the need of a warrant if they believed one of the two parties was tied to terrorism.
In 2008, the FISA law required officials to first get a warrant to spy on an American, including those Americans abroad.