What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Government Surveillance of Citizens : S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Feingold of Wisconsin amendment that would prevent wiretaps on foreigners done to target a U.S. citizen/On agreeing to the amendment
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S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Feingold of Wisconsin amendment that would prevent wiretaps on foreigners done to target a U.S. citizen/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 12     Feb 07, 2008
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
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This vote was on an amendment by Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would prohibit the government from wiretapping a foreigner's phone if the purpose of the surveillance was to target an individual in the United States (sometimes called "reverse targeting"). The laws governing surveillance typically make it more difficult to wiretap an American on American soil than wiretapping someone in a foreign country. It was one of several amendments Feingold offered seeking to erect legal or procedural hurdles intended to protect innocent Americans from having their communications monitored as part of the government's efforts to track international terrorists.

The amendment was offered to a bill that makes revisions to electronic surveillance laws, including controversial provisions that would allow U.S. intelligence agencies to listen in on phone conversations of foreign targets even if they were communicating with someone in the United States. The bill also would grant retroactive legal immunity from prosecution to telecommunications companies that shared customers' private telephone records with the government.

The amendment, Feingold said, "simply ensures that the new authorities contained in this bill are not used to engage in what is known as reverse targeting of Americans here at home." Feingold said his amendment would ensure that the government does not try to skirt laws requiring court orders to wiretap Americans on American soil "by using these new authorities to wiretap someone overseas, when what the Government is trying to do and is interested in is the American with whom that foreign person is communicating." He said though the underlying bill has some language addressing this practice, it is "so weak as to be meaningless."

Christopher Bond, R-Mo., said the underlying bill already contains a prohibition against reverse targeting. He said that Feingold's amendment would replace the simple language in the bill with language that would "make analysts engage in mental gymnastics, trying to figure out if ‘a significant purpose' is to target someone inside the United States. The adoption of this amendment is seriously detrimental to the operation of our analysts and the DNI and the Attorney General would recommend a veto if it is adopted."

The issue of warrantless wiretaps came to a head in 2005 when a series of news reports revealed that the administration had used an executive order to circumvent the court system and collect information about Americans, without a warrant, by petitioning telecommunications providers for phone records and more. It resulted in a firestorm of controversy over balancing the government's need to collect time-sensitive intelligence information from terrorist targets, and the public's right to privacy and due process.

The Senate rejected the amendment by a vote of 38-57. Every Republican present voted against the amendment. Of Democrats present, all but 8 voted for the amendment. (All of the most progressive senators voted yes.) Thus, the measure went forward without language that would have prohibited wiretapping a foreigner if the purpose was to target an American.

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