Monday, February 27, 2006

Politics: An interesting take on Specter's proposed FISA amendment

Glenn Greenwald is the blogger I turn to for expert opinion on Constitutional Law as it applies to current events. He's covered the NSA scandal, and taught me everything I need to know about FISA. Here's a quick primer:

  • FISA was designed in reaction to Nixon's failed power grabs. It was meant to provide strict rules for how domestic surveillance could be done without making it impossible for investigators and prosecutors to take down the bad guys. It specifies strict time limits for how long surveillance can occur before a warrant is required, and it specifies what must be done with the evidence if a warrant is denied.
  • The FISA court oversees requests for these emergency surveillance orders, and they have only declined a small handful of requests over the past few decades.
  • It was amended by the Patriot act to provide more time for investigators to bring their case to the FISA court. James A. Baker III himself declared that this extension was quite adequate for his department's needs.
  • Republican Congressman DeWine proposed even further liberalization of FISA, but it lost steam because the administration did not back it.
  • It turns out that Bush has been authorizing the NSA to override FISA since 2001, claiming that his constitutionally granted authority as Commander in Chief made it his utmost responsibility to do everything in his power to protect our country, even at the expense of these pesky "laws". Nevermind the fact that our country was in greater danger during the Cold War and felt no similar need to piss away our Constitutional rights...
Anyway, that was all off the top of my head so if there are any factual errors please let me know. Coming back to the point of this post, I wanted to highlight that Sen. Arlen Specter is attempting to amend FISA yet again to liberalize its purpose enough to allow Bush's domestic spying program to actually operate within our nation's laws. Read Glenn's analysis for why the Administration may still reject it, and why either outcome is a good thing.

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