Last month, a panel of US Senators voted to extend a controversial law that allows the government to monitor US-bound emails or phone calls of foreign citizens as a terrorism prevention tactic. The bill, which was enacted in 2008 and set to expire at the end of this year, was approved by the senate panel by a vote of 13 to two, with the extension planned to last until June of 2017. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) were the lone holdouts due to the potential for civil liberty violations, and a recently-released report backs their opinion. In it, the senators note that they were told back in July of 2011 that "it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed" under this act.
Due to this lack of clarity, Senators Wyden and Udall said they were "particularly concerned about a loophole in the law that could allow the government to effectively conduct warrantless searches for Americans' communications." The senators went on to say that "since we do not know how many Americans have had their phone calls and emails collected under this law, we believe that it is particularly important to have strong rules in place to protect the privacy of these Americans."
During the process of reviewing the bill's extension, the senators proposed an amendment that would required an estimate of how many Americans have had their communications collected, but that was voted down by the panel. However, Senators Wyden and Udall have pledged to "continue our efforts to obtain this information." The senators also attempted to introduce an amendment that would prohibit "searching through communications collected...in an effort to find a particular American's communications," but that failed to pass as well. Given the potential for US citizens to have their communications monitored without a warrant, this seems like a pretty major flaw in the bill — we're hoping these senators are able to help enact some change that offers citizens a little more protection.