Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fiddling with FISA

The Senate is debating the Protect America Act (PAA), again. It is a modification to the expiring PAA legislation that we talked with Sen Klobuchar about last fall. The Senator took a lot of heat for her vote to authorize that flawed piece of script, but she said the extension was needed to provide time to re-write the law while still allowing the intelligence community to do their job. She assured us that another long term extension would not be acceptable.

True to her word, we are getting down to brass tacks. The Senate authorized, through unanimous consent, a short 15 day extension to finalize the details of the PAA. There was two bills that came out of committee, one from the Intelligence committee, and a much better version from the Judiciary committee. Unfortunately, the Judiciary bill was tabled in favor of the Intel bill, a move that Sen. Amy voted against!

Our Senator, and prosecutor is committed to seeing the rights of US citizens protected, while still providing the necessary tools to the federal government to protect us from the evils that want to do us harm. That commitment will become more evident as the final version of the bill takes shape through debate and amendments.

In speaking with the Senator's office, I have discovered she is in full support of a key piece of this new legislation. I have been told that "yes, the senator will be supporting Sen. Dodd's motion and opposing immunity for the telecoms". I also oppose immunity, but do want to make sure we are careful in not allowing the regular court system to be caught up in making our intelligence gathering operation open to the scrutiny of a public court system. That may be a bit tricky.

But the adjustments to this bill go beyond simple Immunity. Last week EmptyWheel at Firedoglake took us to school:
Feingold argued that immunity was just one part of the SSCI version of the FISA bill that sucks: just as importantly, the SSCI has inadequate protection for the privacy of Americans, particularly when they communicate with people in other countries.

Now, Feingold suggested no one had been blogging about these other topics--to which I complained that I had (and McJoan from DailyKos pretty much agreed I won't shut up about them). Here are some highlights:

Minimization (the process by which the government segregates out US person data and eventually destroys it):

Overseas Spying (addressing the fact that through the use of Pixie Dust, Bush appears to have made it legal to spy on Americans overseas)

Mass Collection (the FISA program aims to allow basket warrants, which will provide the legal justification to do data mining)

Votes on these key amendments are expected by the end of the week. Posturing and fancy footwork is taking place on the economic stimulus package that may delay the Act from moving forward. But the 15 day clock is running out, so I suspect we will have closure on this issue soon enough.

This is all real wonky stuff, and EmptyWheel has been doing the heavy lifting. But I wanted to follow up with our Senator to see where she was at following the events of last fall. It sure seems, at least in these early goings, she is doing a fine job of walking that fine line between protecting the country, and protecting our rights in the process.


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