It's disappointing, but not surprising. After the president scuttled
a compromise between Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and congressional Democrats, Senate Dems did what many expected they would do: they caved
The Senate bowed to White House pressure last night and passed a Republican plan for overhauling the federal government's terrorist surveillance laws, approving changes that would temporarily give U.S. spy agencies expanded power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without a court order.
The 60 to 28 vote, which was quickly denounced by civil rights and privacy advocates, came after Democrats in the House failed to win support for more modest changes that would have required closer court supervision of government surveillance. The legislation, which is expected to go before the House today, would expand the government's authority to intercept without a court order the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States who are communicating with people overseas.
Bush is getting practically everything he asked for. Indeed, under Bush's warrantless-search program launched in 2001, the administration could conduct oversight-free surveillance only if it suspected someone on the call was a terrorist. Under the bill passed by the Senate yesterday, that condition no longer exists.
As Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said, "If this bill becomes law, Americans who communicate with a person abroad can count on one thing: The NSA may be listening."
As for the deal struck by Dems and McConnell, the Speaker's office told the Washington Post
, "We did everything [McConnell] wants, and now he says he doesn't like the bill. They didn't move the goal post; they moved the stadium."
Harry Reid emphasized that yesterday's measure is temporary, and that the Senate will revisit the issue in six months. That's not exactly reassuring. For one thing, Dems will be just as fearful in February as they are now. For another, that's six months of the administration having largely unchecked surveillance power.