The highly controversial
USA Act passed today by a 96-1 vote. The lone dissenter was Senator
Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.
Feingold had attempted to
the bill, but unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. (See: A Senator's Lonely Privacy Fight
Here are a few excerpts from one account -- Terror Bill Clears Senate, by Declan McCullagh for Wired News.
During the three-hour debate, the Senate voted to table -- effectively killing -- Feingold's amendments, which would have:
Still allowed police to perform "roving wiretaps" and listen in on any telephone that a subject of an investigation might use. But cops could only eavesdrop when the suspect is the person using the phone. The amendment was rejected, 90-7.
Preseved the privacy of sensitive records -- such as medical or educational data -- by requiring police to convince a judge that viewing them is necessary. Without that amendment, the USA Act expands police's ability to access any type of stored or "tangible" information. The amendment was rejected, 89-8.
Clarified that universities, libraries and employers may only snoop on people who use their computers in narrow circumstances. Right now, the USA Act says that system administrators should be able to monitor anyone they deem a "computer trespasser." The amendment was rejected, 83-13.
Barred police from obtaining a court order, sneaking into a suspect's home, and not notifiying that person they had been there. The "secret search" section currently is part of the USA Act -- and is something the Justice Department has wanted at least since 1999, when they unsuccessfully asked Congress for that power at the time. The amendment was not introduced.
Feingold's amendments would have rewritten only a tiny portion of the vast, 243-page bill. Even if they had been added, the USA Act still allows police to conduct Internet eavesdropping without a court order in some circumstances, lets federal prosecutors imprison non-citizens for extended periods, and expands the duration of an electronic surveillance order issued by a secret court from 90 to 120 days.