Tapped: Senate Passes Bill Expanding Government Spy Powers

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Voting 68 to 29, the Senate has passed a controverial government surveillance bill, providing telecom companies retroactive immunity.

Bill co-consponsor Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) defended the controversial bill, in a press statement: “This is a very good bill that achieves what we set out to accomplish – restore civil liberty protections through proper FISA court oversight, and allow for targeted surveillance of potential terrorists.”

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid disagrees, explaining his vote against the bill in a press statement:

“The Senate’s debate on FISA has made the Intelligence Committee’s bill somewhat better by adding a number of protections from the Judiciary Committee’s version. The Senate adopted amendments offered by Senators Kennedy, Feingold and Whitehouse that improve title I of the bill, concerning the procedures that will be used to conduct this kind of surveillance in the future.

“But the Senate rejected amendments to strike or modify title II, concerning immunity for telecommunications companies who may have broken the law by abiding the White House’s request for warrantless wiretaps on American citizens. I believe that the White House and any companies who broke the law must be held accountable. In their unyielding efforts to expand Presidential powers, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney created a system to conduct wiretapping – including on American citizens – outside the bounds of longstanding federal law. …

“The White House should bear responsibility for this reckless disdain for the rule of law. But it also appears that many companies followed the Administration’s orders without regard for our laws, our privacy or basic common sense.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) supported and co-sponsored Title I of the bill, but opposed its most controversial measure, Title II which granted the telecom companies retroactive immunity. “Title II would eliminate accountability by granting retroactivmmunity for telecommunications providers who disclosed communications and other confidential information of their customers at the behest of government officials,” Levin said in a letter to the president released to the press. “They did this despite a law specifically making it illegal to do so…. Retroactive immunity is not fair. It is not wise. And it is not necessary.”

Many Senate Democrats, with a razor thin majority, and concerned about being portrayed as soft on terrorism, considered this a no-win issue for them. “The Democrats barely have a majority, and the Republicans are voting in lock step, with the exception of Sen. Specter on occasion,” Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, was cited by Congressional Quarterly today, explaining why the final bill with diluted civil liberties protections and retroactive immunity would likely pass.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate