President Barack Obama signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act bill into law yesterday after the U.S. Senate voted for an extension of the President George W. Bush-era spy bill 73-23.
The FISA bill gives the government clearance to tap into American citizens’ communications with people outside of the U.S. without a warrant, so long as it is done in the name of collecting foreign intelligence. Obama has previously stated his approval of the bill, saying that the U.S. needs such measures when dealing with national security. More specifically, it means that government entities such as the National Security Agency are able to watch Americans without probable cause. They need only an order from the secret FISA court, and they don’t have to alert the targeted citizen prior to the wiretapping.
At the time the bill’s extension passed, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which protects people’s digital rights, called the decision a “blight on our nation.”
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that the surveillance can begin before an order is received and can continue through an appeals process should the court decide not to issue the order, as Wired notes.
Senators from both sides of the aisle proposed a number of amendments to FISA, including one that would require the government to reveal how many citizens have already been affected by this kind of surveillance. Thus far, we are unsure of the scale of the FISA bills’ effect. Another amendment would force the government to be more transparent about what exactly it is monitoring and what kind of data it is collecting.
The senate voted for the bill’s extension on Friday. It is now set to expire in 2017.