FISA: This Seems About Right

By February 25, 2008Briefly Legal, Communications

From CQ Politics:

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’re determined to hammer out electronic surveillance legislation, but with hostile rhetoric intensifying and no hard deadline for action, a quick resolution is unlikely.

A temporary surveillance law (PL 110-55) expired Feb. 16, amid squabbling among Democrats and Republicans who blame each other for the lapse of the law. As Congress returns to work this week, GOP lawmakers, backed by the Bush administration, are insisting that the House simply clear bipartisan Senate-passed surveillance legislation (HR 3773).

But a version the House passed in November differs significantly from the Senate legislation, and Democratic leaders are equally insistent that the two chambers must strike a deal.

In today’s Washington Post, the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees dispute the assertions that American intelligence gathering has been hurt by the lapse of Protect America Act surveillance authority. The op-ed, “Scare Tactics and Our Surveillance Bill,” suffered from the writers changing the topic, attacking the Administration for mishandling the Iraq war; if the arguments about FISA were so persuasive, then why the rhetorical misdirection?

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell was on CNN Late Edition yesterday with John King. McConnell responded to the now constant charges of “fear-mongering.”

KING: But Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, says this, “No amount of fearmongering will change the fact that our intelligence-collection capabilities have not been weakened last week. Even the president’s own director of national intelligence agrees.”

That would be you, sir, Harry Reid putting you in his statement accusing the administration, of which you are a member, of fearmongering.

MCCONNELL: John, we’re less safe because we’re not as an agile. And we have to have the cooperation and partnership from the private sector. And we are actually negotiating — so, think about it. We may be able to get information that’s fleeting, seconds or minutes, and you have to sit down with a lawyer to say, well, can I do this?

So that’s the issue that makes us less capable because we can’t keep up. We have to be agile, and it takes full partnership from the private sector.

McConnell also makes the case for retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that assisted in the surveillance of foreign-based communications of suspected terrorists.

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