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Week of 3.14.08

Candidate Positions on Surveillance

On February 12, 2008, the Senate voted to extend a law which authorizes U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor—without warrants—telephone calls and e-mails between Americans and suspected terrorists overseas, and give immunity to telecommunications companies that assist in the surveillance. On March 14, 2008, the House passed its own version of the bill, which does NOT offer immunity to the telecom industry. Because of this provision, the bill's chances of passing Congress are slim. President Bush has repeatedly excoriated House Democrats for not passing a surveillance bill with telecom immunity, accusing them of placing the nation at risk.

Despite the heated nature of this debate, the presidential candidates have not been asked about wiretaps, FISA or telecom immunity in the 2008 debates so far. Below is NOW's overview of where the 2008 presidential candidates stand on the government's warrantless surveillance of Americans.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)

Sen. Hillary Clinton Clinton has criticized the Bush administration's rationale for monitoring Americans' phone and e-mail communication without a court order, and voted against Bush's warrantless wiretapping program in 2007. Clinton has spoken out publicly against immunity for the telecom industry for cooperating with the Bush administration, addressing the issue most recently in a February interview.

Although Clinton signed on as a co-sponsor of Sen. Christopher Dodd's amendment to the 2008 FISA bill that would deny legal immunity to telecom companies, she wasn't present for the February 12, 2008 vote on the amendment. The amendment failed.

Clinton was also not present to vote on an earlier provision that would allow the FISA bill to sunset in four years rather than six. She also missed the vote on the final version of the FISA bill with the immunity provision intact.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

Sen. Barack Obama Obama has assailed the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program in the past and, like Clinton, voted against Bush's warrantless wiretapping program in 2007. Obama has also publicly opposed immunity for the telecom industry.

Unlike Clinton, Obama showed up on February 7 and February 12, 2008, to vote on key amendments related to the surveillance program, including voting to sunset the program in four years and stripping immunity for telecom companies from the FISA bill.

However, like Clinton, Obama skipped the opportunity to vote against the final version of the FISA bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Sen. John McCain McCain, the expected GOP nominee, has expressed concerns about the legality of the wiretapping program in the past, but in 2007 he did not vote on the bill. More recently, McCain has stood with Republican leaders in support of the overall bill and the immunity provision.

Unlike Clinton and Obama, McCain was present and voted for the FISA bill in February. He has also stepped up his rhetoric around the importance of the surveillance program. After the House of Representatives failed to renew the government surveillance program, McCain joined President Bush in calling the move "disgraceful."