The Senate this week takes up legislation that would overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before the current law expires on February 16. "We can fight terrorism without undermining the Constitution," Senator Bernie Sanders said. Sanders has been a leading opponent of Bush administration proposals to grant retroactive legal immunity to telephone companies that turned over records of phone calls and emails of law-abiding Americans. An amendment to be offered by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and cosponsored by Sanders, would protect communications between a U.S. citizen and a person abroad who is suspected of no wrongdoing.
Enacted in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act responded to revelations of widespread abuse of government wiretaps. It applies to the surveillance of people in the United States for the purpose of collecting intelligence related to foreign powers. A special court was created to hear requests for warrants. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the USA Patriot Act expanded the law's reach to cover terrorism suspects as well as agents of foreign countries. Despite the expanded powers granted by Congress, the Bush administration decided to engage in spying without bothering to obtain easy-to-get court approval for search warrants.
Sanders is also a cosponsor of the Dodd-Feingold amendment. This amendment would remove the provision of the bill that provides immunity to the telecommunications providers that helped the government eavesdrop on innocent Americans without a proper court order and outside of the law.