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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

FISA Up to Date

V. S. Lynch

The original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was passed in 1978, to provide a mechanism for monitoring suspected foreign agents in the United States, while protecting the 4th Amendment rights of American citizens.

The Protect America Act (PAA) was passed by the Senate on August 3, and by the House of Representatives on August 4, after having been introduced on August 1, 2007. The Act was designed to modernize the 1978 FISA Act, by providing "additional procedures for authorizing certain acquisitions of foreign intelligence information and for other purposes". Maryland 6th District Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R) and U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski(D) voted in favor of the Protect America Act; Maryland U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D) voted against it.

Among other provisions, the Protect America Act included the protection of third parties (primarily telecommunications companies) from any liability arising as a result of their participation in intelligence gathering activities. This is generally referred to as "immunity for telecoms" or "telecom immunity". The Act also contained a six month"sunset" provision.

President George W. Bush wanted the "final" FISA bill submitted to him before Congress left for the December holidays. He made it clear that he would veto any FISA bill that did not contain full amnesty for telecoms. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and a candidate for President, made it clear that he would filibuster any bill that did contain full amnesty for telecoms.

Passions ran high! Those who supported telecom amnesty felt that no company should be penalized for acting in good faith at the behest of the government. Those who opposed telecom amnesty believed that no amnesty should be granted for possible violations of the law without some information as to the extent of such violations.

Debate was scheduled for Monday, December 17. Senator Dodd set up a website to facilitate messages to Senators in support of the filibuster. According to Senator Dodd's website, over half a million messages were sent by various media to the Senate, in support of Dodd's filibuster against telecom immunity.

The will of George Bush was no match for the will of the American people.

At approximately 7:45 p.m. last night the FISA billed was pulled from consideration for this session.

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