Friday, October 5, 2007

Democratic leadership scaring me on proposed FISA renewal

Here’s why: House progressives say they’ve been shut out of the bill-writing process and the ACLU says it hasn’t even been briefed. House progressives fear that at least some of the incredible spying on U.S. citizens incorporated into a six month renewal of FISA late this summer are going to be made permanent.

But, they’re fighting back. The entire Congressional Progressive Caucus, all 72 members, has released a pre-emptive list of items they want to see in a FISA renewal bill:

1. It should be the policy of the United States that the objective of any authorized program of foreign intelligence surveillance must be to ensure that American citizens and persons in America are secure in their persons, papers, and effects, but makes terrorists throughout the world feel insecure.

2. The best way to achieve these twin goals is to follow the rule of law. And the exclusive law to follow with respect to authorizing foreign surveillance gathering on U.S. soil is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). As initially enacted by Congress, the exclusivity of FISA was unambiguous. Legislation must reiterate current law that FISA is the exclusive means to authorize foreign surveillance gathering on U.S. soil.

3. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) should be modernized to accommodate new technologies and to make clear that foreign to foreign communications are not subject to the FISA, even though modern technology enables that communication to be routed through the United States.

4. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is indispensable and must play a meaningful role in ensuring compliance with the law. This oversight should include, where possible, regular judicial approval and review of surveillance, of whose communications will be collected, of how it will be gathered, and of how content and other data in communications to and from the United States will be handled.

5. Congress must have regular access to information about how many U.S. communications are being collected and the authority to require court orders when it becomes clear that a certain program or surveillance of a target is scooping up communications of U.S. persons.

6. Once the government has reason to believe that a specific account, person or facility will have contact with someone in the United States, the government should be required to return to the FISC to obtain a court order for continued surveillance. Reliance on the FISC will help ensure the privacy of U.S. persons' communications.

7. Congress should not grant amnesty to any telecommunications company or to any other entity or individual for helping the NSA spy illegally on innocent Americans. The availability of amnesty will have the unintended consequence of encouraging telecommunications companies to comply with, rather than contest, illegal requests to spy on Americans.

8. Authorization to conduct foreign surveillance gathering on U.S. soil must never be made permanent. The threats to America's security and the liberties of its people will change over time and require constant vigilance by the people's representatives in Congress.

These are, or should be, no-brainers. Then why do House progressives still feel locked out of the loop by people like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer? Why did Hoyer postpone a FISA press conference after hearing of the caucus’ bottom line demands?

And, beyond that, the obvious question: “Where’s Pelosi and Reid on this?”

If you’ve read some of my posts, I need not mention that I’m skeptical Democratic leadership will go even halfway to meeting Progressive Caucus demands, and is more likely to come to a modus vivendi with Republicans.