What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Government Surveillance of Citizens : S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Feingold of Wisconsin amendment that would limit electronic intelligence surveillance on foreigners to targets located outside of the U.S./On agreeing to the amendment (2008 senate Roll Call 16)
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S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Feingold of Wisconsin amendment that would limit electronic intelligence surveillance on foreigners to targets located outside of the U.S./On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 16     Feb 12, 2008
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Loss

This vote was on an amendment by Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would prohibit spy agencies seeking information on foreign targets from wiretapping American citizens in the process. It was one of several amendments Feingold offered seeking to erect legal or procedural hurdles intended to protect innocent Americans from having their communications monitored as part of the government's efforts to track international terrorists.

The amendment was offered to a bill that makes revisions to electronic surveillance laws, including controversial provisions that would allow U.S. intelligence agencies to listen in on phone conversations of foreign targets even if they were communicating with someone in the United States.

The issue of warrantless wiretaps came to a head in 2005 when a series of news reports revealed that the administration had used an executive order to circumvent the courts and collect information about Americans, without a warrant, by petitioning telecommunications providers for phone records and more. It resulted in a firestorm of controversy over balancing the government's need to collect time-sensitive intelligence information from terrorist targets, and the public's right to privacy and due process.

Feingold said his amendment would ensure that the government can get the intelligence information it needs on foreign targets while not indiscriminately collecting all communications between people inside the United States and those overseas. Feingold said his amendment is necessary because otherwise the bill would provide "vast and overbroad authorities."

"This amendment would not impede in any way collection in support of military operations, as the opponents continue to falsely assert. This extremely modest amendment would, however, oppose a massive bulk collection dragnet," Feingold said.

John Rockefeller, D-W.Va. and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he shares Feingold's concerns but that he believed the underlying bill already addressed them.

"I do not believe it is necessary. I do believe as drafted the amendment will interfere with legitimate intelligence operations that protect the national security and the lives of Americans," Rockefeller said. "In considering amendments today, we need to consider whether an amendment would provide additional protections for U.S. persons and whether it would needlessly inhibit vital foreign intelligence collection. I do not believe the amendment as drafted provides additional protections."

The Senate rejected Feingold's amendment by a vote of 37-60. Every Republican present voted against the amendment. Of Democrats present, 36 voted for the amendment and 12 voted against it. (All of the most progressive senators voted yes.) Thus, the measure went forward without language limiting wiretapping to targets outside of the United States.

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