July 9th, 2008
05:30 PM ET

Senate passes bill updating spying rules

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/07/09/fisa.explainer/art.cellphone.afp.gi.jpg caption="Mobile phones are one of the technologies that did not exist when the original FISA law was written."]

The Senate Wednesday passed controversial legislation meant to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The vote was 69-28.

The bill now moves to the president's desk. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, voted for the update.

Obama had opposed the FISA reform legislation. A number of individuals have have criticized him for changing his position on the bill.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was not in the Senate Wednesday. He was campaigning in Portsmouth, Ohio, when the vote occurred.

Below, CNN's National Security Producer Pam Benson explains what is in the bill, why the bill is controversial, how the bill may affect Americans' civil liberties and why privacy advocates object to it.

Question: What is the purpose of FISA and why is it being changed?


Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Saad from Ramsey, NJ

    This is one of the most delicate matters facing us today. When you look at it from the security standpoint, this is not a bad idea. It allows the authorities to eavesdrop on suspected people as, where, and when they wish. And even if one turns to be real out of the 50 they eavesdrop on, it is worth it.

    Now look at it from another angle. We did not become who we are today by winning the lotto. It was overtime, it was because of our constitution and the system of checks and balances that results from it what made us the greatest nation in the world. This law is not inline with who we ( The United States of America) are. This makes us one of the 100 nations out of 230 in the world that are not as balanced as we are. A few more like these and we start on the downward slope, which will be a slow process to realize but will be opposite of the process we went through by following our constitution to get here.

    It is indeed a very delicate matter.

    July 10, 2008 at 10:34 am |
  2. jb

    Watching the way Obama changes to suit the time scares me. Where is his spine? See how fast you would get immunity for something you did that was illegal. Hillary got it right. She has more guts than all of them.

    July 10, 2008 at 1:45 am |
  3. Maria Sanchez

    I am so disappointed with Obama on this. He said he would filibuster this bill, but it seems in tying to look tough on defense he looks spineless as does the democratic party which I will not be contributing to any longer this season. "Change" has become a sham phrase and I will probably not vote for him now in November solely because of this vote. It is in direct violation of our Constitution!

    July 9, 2008 at 11:44 pm |
  4. Betty Krambs

    This country has gone to hell in a hand-cart...shades of Stalin Russia and Hitler Germany......When are the people of this country going to wake up and smell the roses? We had one Boston Tea Party and an ensuing war to gain our freedom from tyrannical government and we've allowed this administration to almost singlehandedly say to hell with the law and the constitution. WE ARE THE LAW is their cry. Is it time for another tea party?

    July 9, 2008 at 11:30 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    So Big Brother is not only watching us but eavesdropping on us as well and the telecoms have protection but regular citizens don't. I guess we should all be corporations to have rights and freedoms under the current administration.

    I thought that the President as well as Congress took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution – doesn't appear that much of that has been going on in the last 8 years. Do these people not understand the Constitution or do they think it no longer applies? I can understand why Congress's approval rating is in the single digits now.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 9, 2008 at 9:24 pm |
  6. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    When the Bush administration asked the telecoms to compley with their request for all records, they did so without a warrant. Some telecoms complied, and a few demanded the Bush administration comply to the FISA rules and provide a warrant for such information. In other words, the Bush administration disregarded the 4th Amendment which gives Americans the right to privacy.

    The FISA bill which Obama voted in favor of, gave the telecoms retroactive immunity from prosecution. This is what the Bush administration wanted to prevent American citizens in seeking civil lawsuits against the telecoms. It also cripples the chances of proving criminal actions against the telecoms that complied, and in return the criminal abuse of Executive privilege by the Bush administration.

    In addition to the data mining this current administration has done without any consequences, it sets a precedent for all future administrations to invoke Executive privilege rather than uphold the Constitution.

    July 9, 2008 at 8:37 pm |
  7. michael wright

    what's not being said: Re telecom immunity. They will no longer be immune from today. They will now be under court jurisdiction and permission will be needed, thus protecting US citizen's privacy.
    They are immune from prosecution post 911. under the law at the time they were immune as per John Ashcroft Attorney General, and Gonzalez.
    Obama if elected can now use the court to inforce the law. This was not the case in the old law.
    Why CNN has not pointed this out is a mystery to me? Inform your viewers, that would be a good thing!

    July 9, 2008 at 8:15 pm |
  8. Raul Dominguez

    No one's satisfied! Liberals says he's given in. Conservatives say he's a flip flopper on this issue too. Just like Lou Dobbs who says Obama's not talking about whites and Rev. Jackson says he's talking down to blacks, No one's satisfied!

    July 9, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  9. Joyce in Jacksonville, FL

    I have always been opposed to this Bush administration and the republican agenda to weaken any aspect of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States in more ways now than can be counted - which includes the intrusion of government in the privacy of our own homes and businesses while letting our telephone service provider do the dirty work for them.

    Now, it seems, this administration and our congress not only impinges upon the rights of its citizens, but has found far reaching spying techniques upon unsuspecting members of nation states within their own borders. Has the United States become boundariless big brothers? Isn't this what the founding patricians of this country fought for during this country's first revolution? If these present McCarthists don't watch out, there will surely be another revolution in this country. This time, it may very well cause this nation to turn into an anarchist state.

    July 9, 2008 at 8:00 pm |
  10. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    Obama was against the bill before he was for it. Hey, where did we hear that before? Can you say John Kerry? Check the box for today's Obama flip-flop.

    July 9, 2008 at 7:54 pm |
  11. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    Good thing there is PGP for email....try and get past that.

    It would take too many computers just to crack an email saying "Hi".

    July 9, 2008 at 7:43 pm |
  12. Duffy

    Meh, who needs the fourth amendment anyway, right? It's apparently much more important to protect the telecoms than it is to protect the people whose constitutional rights were violated. This law is a hazy compromise at best, and I'd love to see a panel discuss why on tonight's show.

    July 9, 2008 at 7:03 pm |
  13. CaseyJPS

    How convenient for McCain to be out of town for the vote. Why wasn't 360 covering this AHEAD of the vote? Ramping-up to trample the 4th Ammendment is (was) MAJOR NEWS. It's done and over and the American public didn't blink because the media is too busy covering the Obama kids instead of educating and informing appropriately on major issues (and letting the Bush administration get away with murder, once again).

    July 9, 2008 at 7:01 pm |
  14. Arachnae

    "...why the bill is controversial, how the bill may affect Americans' civil liberties and why privacy advocates object to it."

    The bill is controversial and many Americans object to it because some of us remember J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

    It's always a mistake to give broad authority to security police; give them the inch and they will assume you meant to give them the mile.

    July 9, 2008 at 6:55 pm |
  15. Stacy

    Cindy, Congress did not do something right. What they did was give away your fourth amendment rights. Now the telecoms can freely give your information to the government and you will not be allowed to sue them for violating your privacy. We could have had this FISA bill passed ages ago, but Bush threatened to veto without telecom immunity. This leads to only one conclusion: Bush cares more about protecting telecom companies than protecting the American people.

    July 9, 2008 at 6:45 pm |
  16. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Obama has voted how he needs to vote. There will be new military conflict before the election. And, if he did not vote for this bill they would use that against him. McCain is a coward. He didn't vote on this bill on purpose. He didn't want the flack on it either way.

    McCain............Obama is way ahead of you and the RNC on everything.

    July 9, 2008 at 6:25 pm |
  17. Cindy

    It's about time that congress does something right! This bill sounds great to me! The government should have to follow strict rules when spying on it's own citizens. Now why in the world was Obama against it to begin with?


    July 9, 2008 at 5:42 pm |