WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved two amendments offered by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) that would ensure greater judicial oversight of warrantless wiretaps. In August, Congress had given the Administration additional power to conduct warrantless wiretaps without judicial or congressional oversight. That law sunsets in February.
“In August, I voted against the Protect America Act because it weakens the ability of Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to review electronic intelligence gathering that may target U.S. citizens,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We are a nation of laws and now we have an opportunity to return to this issue and ensure that our nation’s intelligence gathering efforts have appropriate oversight as they seek to prevent and disrupt terrorist plans.”
Senator Cardin’s first amendment was adopted as part of the committee substitute. It would require an independent audit of the legality of the President’s warrantless surveillance program by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, and require the Justice Department to turn over the legal justifications for the program to Congress.
The second amendment would increase Congressional oversight of this program by shortening the sunset date of the legislation from 6 years to 4 years.
The Protect America Act , which was enacted in August, gives the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) additional power to conduct warrantless wiretaps without going to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court for authorization. The law must be renewed in February 2008.
The FISA Court was established in 1978 as a special court to review applications for warrants related to national security investigations. It was established because of executive branch abuses of domestic intelligence gathering.