And speaking of marginally-competent telephone companies -- as Dustin was in the previous post -- let us take note of Congress' action today, retroactively granting the phone companies a free Get Out of Jail card for cooperating with dozens of warrantless surveillance projects conducted by the government after 9/11.
OK, it was for a good cause, but still... Or, as the bumper sticker asks, "Feel Safer Now?"
Passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments of 2008 (FISA) basically enables the government to intercept the international communications of Americans without a court order. A case can, of course, be made in wartime that this is a good thing. Or maybe not, since it's been prohibited until now (but done anyway; go figger).
The House passed FISA today by 293-129. Senate approval is expected next week.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a strong and vocal opponent of FISA. Here's what he said about the measure yesterday:
"The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President’s illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home.Today, however, Feingold is in the minority. Here's what Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, had to say after voting in the majority today:
"Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration."
“While we should have closed the gaps in our intelligence laws a long time ago, today’s bipartisan compromise will serve as a significant blow to radical terrorist networks seeking to do us harm. This bill protects telecom companies that stepped forward in the days following 9/11 to assist the government in keeping us safe. Those acts deserve admiration – not lawsuits.Ryan noted that under the original 1978 law, the U.S. Constitution and the FISA Court, the monitoring of suspected foreign terrorists still must gain approval ... after the fact. As his press release notes, "Rather than waiting for court approval before taking action – a delay that would put American lives at risk in the post-9/11 world – intelligence officials can seek court approval within a week of emergency eavesdropping on foreigners. To be clear, this bill strengthens current protections for U.S. citizens against unlawful monitoring by U.S. intelligence agencies."
“Congress has repeatedly failed in its attempts to modernize the tools to combat terrorism. Since the expiration of the Protect America Act over four months ago, America has been fighting terrorism with pre-9/11 intelligence capabilities. Today, Congress has taken a significant step forward in giving our intelligence community the tools they need to keep America safe, while upholding the treasured freedoms and civil liberties that we hold dear.”
Not to put too fine a point on it: the eavesdropping is not just on "foreigners;" telephone calls have people at both ends of the line, and in the U.S., most likely, at one end of the call is an "American."
As Feingold said: "Under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power."
The bill sunsets in 2012, unless renewed by Congress.
Further details on the bill can be found HERE, as written by Sen. Kit Bond, R-MO, ranking Republican member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and printed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.