Why Immunity Is Necessary for FISA Reform
Conn Carroll /
Congress has had 178 days since the Protect America Act was signed on August 5, to come to an agreement on how to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Now it appears they will have another 15. Everybody agrees the 1978 act is hopelessly out of debate, but those on the left always gloss over why, instead scaring their followers with stories about how the Bush Administration is reading everyone’s email and listening to everyone’s phone calls. A quick review of the known facts demonstrates why the bi-partisan FISA changes ought to be passed by Congress and why they must include immunity for telecom companies from nuisance lawsuits.
- Passed in 1978 FISA required US intelligence agencies to obtain warrants to monitor communications through wire and cable since those calls were mostly domestic, but also allowed US intelligence to conduct needed warrantless surveillance on radio and satellite communications since most of the calls were international.
- Technology has since changed so that now most international to international communications run through wires and cables (think emails), many of which exist in the United States. In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush instituted a terrorist surveillance program, after advising leaders of both parties in Congress, that did not conform to FISA’s outdated requirements.
- Telecom companies, relying on the Administrations word (and the fact that both parties in Congress had been briefed on the plan), cooperated with US intelligence agencies. Since then the US has thwarted 19 known terrorist attacks.
- When selected details of the program were leaked to the New York Times in 2005 a public firestorm ensued. By 2007 the White House worked out a deal with Congress to temporarily amend FISA so that vital intelligence gathering could continue.
- Now progressive activists are pushing to punish those telecom companies that answered the call to help protect our country by allowing nuisance lawsuits to go forward. (more…)