FISA Update, the Compromise

The House intends to vote on H.R. 6304, the FISA Amendments Act, by 2 p.m. today, the Majority Leader’s office reports.

The Washington Post has entirely sensible editorial on the issue, “A Better Surveillance Law,” which details the changes in the House bill from the Senate version, S. 2248, demonstrating that, contrary to screams from the activist left, the new legislation is an actual compromise. As for the telecom immunity issue, the Post writes:

The bill also provides appropriate protections from civil lawsuits for telecommunications companies and gives these companies access to the FISA court to challenge requests they deem improper.

Striking the balance between liberties and security is never easy, and the new FISA bill is not perfect. But it is a vast improvement over the original law and over the earlier, rushed attempts to revise that law. It also provides some welcome evidence that congressional leaders remain capable of achieving delicate compromise in the national interest.

The Post’s page one story is the typical quasi-analysis that jumps immediately to the partisan political implications and questions about President Bush’s relevance. Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is the chief target of bile, with capitulation and cave-in being popular accusations.

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, is editorially of a mixed mind about the compromise. Much was sacrificed, the editors write in “The Intelligence Deal,” as the courts have been thrust into the middle of the war-making powers of the executive. Still, a positive:

On the bright side, the deal gives crucial immunity to the telecom companies that in good faith assisted this surveillance after 9/11. A reality of this Internet era is that the feds need these private companies to monitor terrorists; our spies can’t merely bug the phones of Russian spies like they could during the Cold War. The left understands this and has hit the companies with some 40 lawsuits in an attempt to shut down the surveillance by the backdoor, without a political debate that voters might understand.

The telecom (and other) companies have thus made it clear that they can’t afford to cooperate any longer without immunity. And so the deal will let the companies escape the lawsuits, for past and future cooperation, if they present to a federal judge a certification from the Attorney General that they are helping at federal request. The eavesdropping orders that expire in August can thus be renewed, so our security services won’t have to “go dark” over the global antiterror battlefield.

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