by Phillip Manning
In the final days of 2012, news of the fiscal cliff dominated most headlines. While the deal was being hammered out, however, another piece of legislation received fewer headlines, but could impact a number of Americans. KTNA’s Phillip Manning takes a look at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the bipartisan opposition that included both Alaska senators.
On December 28th, the Senate voted heavily in favor of a five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, known as FISA. That’s quite a mouthful, but the most familiar aspect of the legislation is well-known to any American who follows Washington politics, warrantless wiretaps. The Senate voted 73 to 23 in favor of the extension. Among the 23 opposed were senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Begich was joined by sixteen other Democrats in voting against extension, while Murkowski was accompanied by only Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah in rejecting the five-year extension among Republicans. KTNA contacted Senator Murkowski’s office to gain an understanding of why the senator joined the heavily Democratic opposition to FISA extension.
Senator Murkowski’s office explained that the Senator believed that the surveillance program “crossed the line of balance between liberty and scrutiny,” and that a five-year extension is too much of a “blank check” to the National Security Agency. The Senator believes that a better system needs to be utilized. Senator Begich issued a press release the same day stating,“While it is critical for law enforcement agencies to be able to utilize surveillance tools to protect us from terrorism, a loophole remains in the FISA Act that would allow for unchecked monitoring of American’s personal communications. We need a better balance between protecting our safety and our constitutional rights.”
Before the ultimate vote on the extension of the FISA Amendments Act, an attempt was made to amend the bill by forcing the NSA to disclose the number of private conversations that were being monitored. The amendment was defeated, however, so no requirement for disclosure will be enacted.