Bill to Authorize Warrantless Surveillance Introduced

03.17.06 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Senate Republicans led by Sen. Mike DeWine yesterday introduced a bill (pdf) that would authorize warrantless intelligence surveillance for up to 45 days, after which it could be renewed upon review by the Attorney General.

The bill would require notification to Congress of various aspects of the program.

But significantly, it would impose no external constraints on domestic surveillance by the executive branch.

The bill (pdf) would also impose penalties of up to $1 million and/or 15 years in prison for unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to such surveillance activity.

Stung by criticism that this approach could be used to punish reporters who write about illegal government surveillance, the Senators declared that the proposed penalty, an amendment to 18 U.S.C. 798, “does not apply to journalists.”

Thus, while the current 18 U.S.C. 798(a) apparently prohibits unauthorized disclosures of certain specific types of classified information by “any person”, the new proposed section 798(b) would only apply to “any covered person,” which means someone who has authorized possession of the classified information, but not a reporter or other recipient of the information.

See “DeWine, Graham, Hagel and Snowe Introduce the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006,” news release, March 16.

On March 13, Sen. Russ Feingold introduced a resolution to censure President Bush for what he described as a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.