In the current lame-duck session of Congress, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been working to block the extension of a dangerous piece of surveillance legislation, which the Obama administration has deemed one of its primary legislative priorities for this year.
S.3276 would extend certain provisions of the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which were enacted to provide legal cover for the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program launched in secret under the Bush administration. In particular, extension would continue to allow the federal government to perform dragnet surveillance on persons--both foreign, and within the US--without individual suspicion.
Senator Wyden justified his decision by appealing to the lack of transparency concerning the specific capabilities of the bill. In particular, he expressed his concern regarding the potential abuses of the bill, which could result in severe violations of privacy rights.
As addressed by spokesman Tom Caiazza, one of the primary worries concerning S.3276 is that it would augment certain overreaching powers of the federal government, providing for a potentially dangerous loophole through which:
“… intelligence agencies [may] deliberately search through potentially large piles of communications to find the phone calls and emails of specific Americans… without getting a warrant or emergency authorization on anyone.”
Senator Wyden expressed his intent to correct problems with FISA once the bill arrives on the floor, and indicated his willingness to reform specific aspects of the bill in order to prevent exploitation of this search provision.
In addition to S.3276, two other processes related to FISA recently happened. For instance, a companion bill extending FISA for five years passed the House this September. Moreover, the Supreme Court is also considering whether the NSA may be challenged in court, or whether the agency is instead above the law.