Bush Signs Temporary Wiretap Law

Although Congress approved expanding warrantless surveillance of Americans
over the weekend, lawmakers are expected to again take up the controversial
issue after their annual August recess.

The Protect America Act revises the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
(FISA) to allow U.S. intelligence agencies – without a court order — to
wiretap telephone conversations and intercept e-mail of Americans
communicating with others abroad.

According to the new law, the calls or e-mail must involve foreign
intelligence information. That determination is left to Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales. The measure expires in six months and calls for Inspector
General audits of the program.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on her blog Saturday, “Although the bill
has a six month sunset clause, I do not believe the American people will want
to wait that long before corrective action is taken.”

In a letter to the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence
Committees, Pelosi urged the panels to reconvene as soon as possible in
September to pass new legislation addressing the “many deficiencies” in the
new law.

Both President Bush, who signed the law on Sunday, and Mike McConnell, the
director of National Intelligence, said the new law was necessary to keep up
with the technology used by terrorists, particularly e-mail routed through the

“Today we face a dynamic threat from enemies who understand how to use modern
technology against us,” Bush said Sunday. “Whether foreign terrorists, hostile
nations, or other actors, they change their tactics frequently and seek to
exploit the very openness and freedoms we hold dear.”

Bush also wants Congress to reconvene quickly to reconsider the legislation to
include liability protection for carriers who participate in the program. The
Electronic Frontier Foundation, for instance, sued AT&T last
year for its alleged participation in the government’s warrantless
surveillance programs initiated in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The EFF contends AT&T, the nation’s largest telecom provider, provided the
National Security Agency (NSA) access to its caller database, as well as
facilitated surveillance of customers.

Last year, a federal judge today ordered the Bush
administration to cease all warrantless wiretapping of calls between Americans
and suspected foreign terrorists.

“While I appreciate the leadership it took to pass this bill, we must remember
that our work is not done,” Bush said. “This bill is a temporary, narrowly
focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law.”

In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also stressed the temporary nature
of the bill.

“This legislation is a temporary fix. It is not permanent and it expires in
six months. It immediately addresses critical gaps in our
intelligence-collection efforts,” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said
in a statement. “The intelligence community is deeply concerned that chatter
among suspected terrorist networks is up.”

Civil liberties and public advocacy groups widely panned the measure.

“Simply put, this legislation would render FISA ineffective when it comes to
protecting the privacy Americans’ of international communications,” Greg
Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology said in a statement. “The
bill effectively allows the government to spy on Americans when it targets
someone overseas with whom a person in the U.S. is communicating.”

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU)
Washington office, warned that the White House “is on the verge of reviving a
warrantless wiretapping program even broader than the illegal one it conducted

Neither AT&T nor Verizon, the country’s number two carrier, responded to
requests for comment on the new law.

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