February 6, 2008 | By Hugh D'Andrade

FISA News Roundup

As the Senate prepares to vote on amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this week -- including the crucial Dodd-Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity from the bill -- the web is lighting up with news and analysis. A few highlights:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell sent a letter to Senate leaders reminding them (in case they have forgotten) that the President will veto any FISA bill that does not include immunity for telecoms like AT&T that cooperated in the NSA's domestic spying program.

If any of these amendments [striking or altering immunity conditions in the bill] is part of the bill that is presented to the President, we, as well as the President’s other senior advisors, will recommend that he veto the bill.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid stood up to Mukasey's bullying and told it like it is:

This veto threat is part of a White House strategy to jam the bill through Congress with procedural maneuvers and political gamesmanship. We call on Republicans to allow the legislative process to work so that the Senate can pass a strong bipartisan bill.

Meanwhile, in a call to right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh meant to shore up support for the telco immunity, Vice President Dick Cheney was uncharacteristically blunt in admitting the private sector's cooperation in the NSA program:

Those companies helped specifically at our request. They've done yeoman duty for the country.

Senator Feingold told Newsweek why Americans dislike the idea of immunity:

People see their own personal liberties affected. And we've seen that the telecom immunity does offend people. People may be nervous about giving a free pass [on immigration]. But what's gonna bother them even more are the types of things I'm describing here: the level to which their privacy is being subjected to a "trust me" government that impacts their daily freedom and privacy. It really is disturbing to people with any kind of common sense at all.

Senator Rockefeller had some worrisome things to say on the floor today about the Senate's FISA bill, as Wired's Threat Level notes. General warrants, anyone?

Unlike traditional [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application orders which involve collection on one individual target, the new FISA provisions create a system of collection. The courts role in this system of collection is not to consider probable cause on individual targets but to ensure that procedures used to collect intelligence are adequate. The courts' determination of the adequacy of procedures therefore impacts all electronic communications gathered under the new mechanisms, even if it involves thousands of targets.

And the LA Times Editorial board reminded readers that the telecoms have a responsibility to uphold the law as the last line of defense against illegal government surveillance:

It's important that phone companies and Internet providers cooperate fully with legal surveillance requests, and that they not be put at risk for doing so. On warrantless wiretaps, however, those firms are the only potential check against unlawful snooping. If they're protected from any liability, they will have no reason to question the legal basis for the government's requests.

The Senate will be voting on these amendments any day now, and the question of whether to hold telecoms accountable will be resolved one way or the other. Now is the time to take action -- call or email your Senator to urge them to vote Yes on the Dodd-Feingold amendment!


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