Wired News: NSA Bill Performs a Patriot Act:
A bill radically redefining and expanding the government's ability to eavesdrop and search the houses of U.S. citizens without court approval passed a key Senate committee Wednesday, and may be voted on by the full Senate as early as next week.
By a 10-8 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB2453, the National Security Surveillance Act (.pdf), which was co-written by committee's chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) in concert with the White House.
Specter's bill concedes the government's right to wiretap Americans without warrants, and allows the U.S. Attorney General to authorize, on his own, dragnet surveillance of Americans so long as the stated purpose of the surveillance is to monitor suspected terrorists or spies.
Lisa Graves, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the bill "stunning."
"The administration has taken their illegal conduct in wiretapping Americans without court orders, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Constitution, and used it as springboard to not only get FISA changed to allow the Terrorist Surveillance Program, but to actually, going forward, not give protections to Americans' privacy rights," Graves said.
Jim Dempsey, the policy director for the more moderate Center for Democracy and Technology, described the bill's passage out of committee as "light years or miles beyond the Patriot Act."
"What started out as Sen. Specter wanting to rein in the president's program has turned on its head and is now not just a legislative ratification of the program, but an expansion of warrantless wiretapping of Americans," Dempsey said. "It would allow the NSA to turn its vacuum cleaners on even domestic phone calls and e-mails of citizens.
"They do all of this in Alice in Wonderland fashion by defining all kinds of categories of surveillance to be not surveillance," said Dempsey.