The House of Representatives is set to introduce new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation today designed to further delay the implementation of a bipartisan Senate deal that brings FISA into the 20th century. The House’s new “path on wiretaps” attempts to avoid the issue of legal protections for phone companies that helped U.S. intelligence agencies, by passing off the decision to the federal courts. No where does the House explain how privacy is better served by allowing one judge in California to decide whether or not the phone companies properly responded to assurances from the government that they were participating in a lawful program. The House leadership was briefed on the details of the program from the beginning. The democratic nature of their institution gives them all the authority they need to grant telecommunications companies the protections they deserve.
Worse the House bill contains two other provisions not included in the Senate bipartisan compromise bill that will only further delay necessary FISA reform. One provision would create a new Congressional commission to issue a report on surveillance programs, and the other requires the National Security Agency to get court approval before acting on a target. The Senate bill allows the NSA to first act and then go to the court for approval.
All three of the new House provisions have no chance of being accepted by conservatives in the House or by the bipartisan coalition that passed the Senate’s legislation on the issue. Clearly House liberals are purposefully avoiding the merits of the debate so they can demagogue on the issue this fall. Americans deserve better.