A FISA Compromise Nears

According to published reports, Congress could vote sometime this week on a measure to update federal surveillance authority to intercept foreign communications that may have a U.S. nexus. CQ Politics reported talks among top legislative aides last Friday, and the discusssions continued today. Roll Call reports (subscription only) that the goal is to bring a “compromise package to the Senate floor as early as Wednesday and then to the House floor on Thursday.”

A key compromise being discussed would allow a federal district court to determine the legality of the telecommunications companies agreeing to assist law-enforcement officials with interceptions of suspected terrorist communications after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The telecoms were presented with what they were told were lawfully drawn orders, but now the companies are being sued by a coalition of privacy absolutists, anti-Administration activists and trial lawyers.

The Senate bill, which passed with a bipartisan 68-29, provided retroactive legal immunity to the telecoms, but the measure was blocked by House leadership. Based on the limited press accounts, there’s no way of telling whether the new compromise gives law enforcement and intelligence the ability to effectively monitor threats while respecting the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. Our primary concern remains efforts by the trial bar and its allies to punish the private sector for being good corporate citizens. If a compromise respects the role and intentions of the telecoms, then fine. For now, we’re counting on the good will of the negotiators or at least the salubrious effects of competing political pressures.

The ACLU, not knowing what’s in the deal, is still appalled. But then, that’s their default switch. The angry left is angry, but then…Oh, and this left-wing outfit is attacking Majority Leader Hoyer for selling out for campaign contributions. Hard to see how that helps their case.

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