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A Tale of Two Fisa Bills

December 14th, 2007 · No Comments

I survey the coming fight over FISA reform over at Ars Technica. An excerpt:

The battle in the Senate over how to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act begins on Monday when, over the objections of prominent Democratic colleagues, Majority Leader Harry Reid will introduce the White House–supported version of a FISA reform bill approved in October by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

On Tuesday, fourteen Democratic senators—including presidential contenders Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joseph Biden, and Chris Dodd— had signed a letter urging Reid to instead bring to the floor an alternative bill produced in November by the Judiciary Committee. That version of the legislation, which will now be offered as an amendment to the Intelligence Committee’s bill, contained a variety of additional restrictions and checks on government wiretaps sought by civil liberties groups. It also, crucially, omitted a provision granting telecom companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits related to their cooperation with the president’s extrajudicial eavesdropping program. President Bush has pledged to veto any FISA amendment that failed to provide such immunity—a threat that did not deter the House from passing just such a bill last month.

While Democrats have struggled to counteract a frustrated base’s perception of congressional capitulation to the White House, the executive branch has mounted a full court press in favor of its preferred version of the law. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Wednesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey warned that the changes made in the Judiciary Committee’s version of the bill “would have the collective effect of weakening the government’s ability to effectively surveil intelligence targets abroad.” And on Thursday, Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell made their case directly to the Senate in a closed-door briefing.

Go ahead, read the rest.

Tags: Privacy and Surveillance