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How far does the new wiretapping bill actually go?

Cnet.com, that bastion of leftist rhetoric (snark button at full tilt) has a very simple FAQ about what the Democrats and Republicans foisted upon us this weekend, its known as the *cough* Protect America Act of 2007. A couple of highlights from there:

What does the new Protect America Act actually do?

The new law effectively expands the National Security Agency’s power to eavesdrop on phone calls, e-mail messages and other Internet traffic with limited court oversight. Telecommunic ations companies can be required to comply with government demands, and if they do so they are immune from all lawsuits.

It also says, as George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr notes, that 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants are not needed for Internet or telephone “surveillanc e directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” What that means is that the National Security Agency can plug into a switch inside the United States (when monitoring someone outside the country) without seeking a court order in advance.

How long will this law last?

The law signed by Bush is set to “sunset” in 180 days. That addition was tacked on as an amendment after last-minute negotiations among politicians and the Bush administrati on, who remain at odds over how a permanent law should be worded.

“Our main objective at this point was to ensure that a bill passed that would give us the tools we needed to continue to fight the war on terror,” a spokeswoman for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told CNET News.com on Monday. “The politics of it were such that that was the concession we were willing to make in order to get this bill passed sooner than later.”

Translation: If the protracted skirmishing over the Patriot Act renewal is any indicator, this won’t be settled easily, quickly or amicably.

Weren’t there some concerns about a recent court ruling?

Yes, although details remain murky. House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told Fox News last week: “There’s been a ruling, over the last four or five months, that prohibits the ability of our intelligence services and our counterintel ligence people from listening in to two terrorists in other parts of the world where the communicatio n could come through the United States.” Because the ruling–and even the existence of a ruling–is not public, there’s no way to tell what’s really going on.

A subsequent Los Angeles Times article says it was a ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that imposed new restrictions on the National Security Agency’s ability to intercept communicatio ns that are between people overseas, but that “transit” U.S. data networks operated by Internet service providers and telecommunic ations companies. The newspaper, citing an anonymous source, said the FISA ruling dealt with a request for a “basket warrant,” meaning a kind of dragnet approach rather than warrants issued on a case-by-case basis for surveillance of specific terrorism suspects.

The Washington Post elaborated on the impact of the ruling, saying its effect was to block the NSA’s efforts to collect information from a large volume of foreign calls and e-mails that pass through U.S. communicatio ns nodes clustered around New York and California.

The FISA court is relevant because Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in January that the Bush administrati on would seek its approval for future electronic surveillance .
There are plenty more for those interested, click the link at the beginning. Oh Happy Dayz!

Tags: Wiretapping Americans, Protect America Act of 2007


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