January 24, 2008

Contact:202-675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

Washington, DC – The Senate took its first step towards legitimizing the president’s warrantless wiretapping program today by voting against a substitute amendment to the FISA Amendments Act of 2007.  By a vote of 60 to 34, senators rejected replacing the base bill with an alternate version authored by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The base bill will now continue to be the legislation passed out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which strongly resembles the disastrous Protect America Act and authorizes year-long programs of warrantless wiretapping.  The bill also allows for surveillance dragnets that can sweep up Americans’ communications and includes immunity for telecom companies who aided in domestic spying.  The Judiciary Committee’s bill would have provided stronger protections for Americans’ privacy and sought greater judicial oversight of warrantless wiretapping.  The American Civil Liberties Union emphatically condemned the vote.

The following can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“It appears the Senate is buckling under pressure from the White House.  The Judiciary Committee’s alternative included vastly improved privacy protections for Americans over both the Intelligence Committee bill and the Protect America Act.  By rejecting the Senate Judiciary Committee’s language, the Senate has rejected the constitutionally superior bill. 

“Under Democratic leadership, the Senate will now continue its debate on surveillance with a bill that resembles something from the administration’s playbook.  Six months after being hoodwinked into passing the Protect America Act, Americans are still waiting for Congress to grow a spine.

“Instead of capitulating to the administration, senators should listen to their constituents who overwhelmingly oppose warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity.  As the FISA debate moves forward, we urge the Senate to wake up and realize it is a co-equal branch of government.”

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