Ron Edmonds/AP
President Bush, center, is applauded by members of Congress and his cabinet, after
signing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). (AP)

Controversial Surveillance Bill Passes but Argument Remains

July 10, 2008 04:35 PM
by Josh Katz
The Senate voted to pass the surveillance bill yesterday, representing a victory for President Bush and his policy on combating terrorism.

30-Second Summary

The Senate approved the legislation 69-28 on Wednesday, following the House’s 293-129 vote in favor of the bill last month. But critics continue to the blast the bill, which President George W. Bush has said he will sign into law.

The law would retroactively grant immunity to the telecommunications companies that have provided surveillance information to the government, halting about 40 lawsuits pending against them. An amendment to permit the lawsuits, backed by Ill. Sen. Barack Obama, did not pass.

The government would be able to conduct its surveillance program without obtaining warrants by securing approval from a secret court.

Critics have cited the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, meant to counteract the power of the executive branch in the wake of Watergate by having an independent court assess such matters.

The Baltimore Sun had urged Congress to vote down the bill even though the newspaper knew that probably would not be the case. The editorial said the legislation was in violation to constitutional privacy rights. The San Francisco Chronicle agreed with that assessment, adding that the extent of Bush’s wiretapping may remain unknown if the telecom lawsuits are dropped.

But Andrew Sullivan of Atlantic Monthly calls the bill a good “middle ground” in the conflict between privacy and national security.

Although Obama wished to amend the bill, he did vote in favor of the legislation, turning back on a previous pledge to vote against the bill and angering some of his supporters.

Headline Link: ‘Senate OKs Surveillance Revamp’

Background: ‘The Surveillance Controversy’

Opinion & Analysis: Debating the bill

In favor of the bill
Against the bill
A sticky political situation

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