Under new provisions of the Protect America Act 2007 recently signed into legislation, as an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, the US National Security Agency (NSA) can monitor all traffic originating, passing through or terminating in the US without requiring a court order. Given that more than 35% of the world's voice and non-voice telecom traffic is routed through US hubs, the act essentially gives the NSA legal access to monitor over one third of the world's telecom traffic. The bill was passed by 44 votes with 23 abstentions
The bill was hotly debated in the US House of Representatives with right-leaning congressional proponents saying the amendment is necessary in the ongoing war on terrorism, and left-leaning representatives arguing that it would undermine civil liberties. "In the 30 years since Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, telecommunications technology has dramatically changed," said congressman Lamar Smith, representing the 21st district of Texas. "As a result, the intelligence community is hampered in gathering essential information about terrorists needed to prevent attacks against America. Congress must modernise FISA to address this problem."
However, congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, representing the 16th district of California, disagrees: "This bill goes far beyond what is necessary and ... would grant the Attorney General the ability to wiretap anybody, anyplace, anytime, without court review, without any checks and balances. I think that this unwarranted, unprecedented measure would simply eviscerate the fourth amendment that protects the privacy not of terrorists, but of Americans."
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