The House and Senate met again today to produce a strong new FISA bill and once again, Republicans and the White House refused to come to the negotiating table. Despite the Republicans’ apparent insistence on turning this into a partisan issue, Congressional Democrats will continue to reach out in a bipartisan way to finalize a strong FISA law that protects our national security and our civil liberties.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the Congress today, the Bush Administration repeated its claim that the expiration of the Protect America Act (PAA) has resulted in intelligence gaps. If the expiration of the PAA has lessened the willingness of telecommunications companies to comply with surveillance requests to protect our national security, the President and Congressional Republicans have only themselves to blame for refusing to support the PAA’s extension.
The existing FISA statute provides a remedy: convert the surveillance requests to compulsory court orders. The Director of National Intelligence has admitted that the backlog at the FISA court that prompted the passage of the PAA last summer no longer exists. FISA court orders can therefore be issued even more quickly than they were in the past.
Facts About FISA:
1. Under FISA, the Attorney General can approve surveillance in minutes. Surveillance can begin immediately and approval of the FISA Court can be obtained within three days.
2. Unlike last summer, there is no backlog of cases to slow down getting surveillance approvals from the FISA court. Michael McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, has stated: “We’re caught up to all of it now.” [2/7/08]
3. The FISA Court can approve surveillance orders quickly, and according to public reports, it has approved nearly every application for a warrant from the Department of Justice over the past 30 years.
4. Under FISA, telecommunications companies can be compelled by the FISA court to help with surveillance and have legal protection for compliance.
Facts About the Legislative Process:
1. The House passed the RESTORE Act in November 2007. Because of Senate Republican delay tactics, the Senate did not pass its bill until February 12.
2. Congressional Republicans blocked a second extension of the Protect America Act on February 13th after President Bush said he would veto it and reiterated his intention to veto any FISA bill that does not include immunity for telecommunications companies.
3. Now that both the House and Senate passed legislation, Committee leaders from both chambers are attempting to working on a bipartisan compromise that would pass both the House and Senate and get signed into law. Unfortunately, House and Senate Republicans and the Bush Administration have refused to come to the negotiating table.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, represents California’s Eighth District in the House of Representatives.
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