What: All Issues : War & Peace : Intelligence Agencies' Oversight : S.2248 (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Feingold of Wisconsin amendment that would prevent the government from wiretapping someone in the United States unless they are involved with international terrorist activities/On agreeing to the amendment (2008 senate Roll Call 14)
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S.2248 (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Feingold of Wisconsin amendment that would prevent the government from wiretapping someone in the United States unless they are involved with international terrorist activities/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 14     Feb 12, 2008
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Loss

This vote was on an amendment by Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would prevent the government from wiretapping someone in the United States "unless there is reason to believe that the communication concerns international terrorist activities directed against the United States, or there is reason to believe that the acquisition is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm." 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 FISA court 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 and also protects the privacy of American citizens.

"This amendment in no way hampers our fight against al-Qaida and its affiliates. This is not about whether we will be effective in combating terrorism.. This is about whether Americans at home deserve more privacy protections than foreigners overseas," Feingold said. "This is about separation of power, whether anyone outside the executive branch will oversee what the Government is doing with all the communications of Americans it collects inside the United States."

Christopher Bond, R-Mo., said the bill would apply a different standard for collecting intelligence information as long as one person on the line was inside the United States, and that this is inappropriate. "There is no reason why … they need a higher level of protection when they are talking to a foreign terrorist than when they are talking to a U.S. drug dealer," Bond said.

Some Democrats also sided with Republicans against the amendment. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Feingold's amendment would, in practice, restrict the scope of collecting information under the bill to international terrorist incidents. "Under the terms of this amendment, no other important foreign policy or national security target could be pursued unless the Government goes through a process that appears to be basically unworkable," Rockefeller said.

The Senate rejected the amendment by a vote of 35-63. Every Republican present voted against the amendment. Of Democrats present, 34 voted for the amendment, and 14 voted against it. (The most progressive senators all voted yes.) Thus, the measure went forward without language that would have prevented the government from wiretapping someone in the United States unless they are involved with international terrorist activities.

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