Legislation Seeks To Ease Rules On Domestic Spying

Legislation Seeks To Ease Rules On Domestic Spying
April 14th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Legislation Seeks To Ease Rules On Domestic Spying

Legislation Seeks To Ease Rules On Domestic Spying
New York Times
April 14, 2007
Pg. 13

By James Risen
WASHINGTON, April 13 — The administration proposed a bill on Friday to relax certain legal restrictions on the government’s ability to intercept telephone calls and other communications in the United States.
The proposal would change provisions in the primary law on domestic surveillance that the Bush administration says limit its ability to spy on the domestic and international communications of foreigners and would provide new legal immunity for telecommunications companies that have been sued for cooperating with the government as it conducts domestic wiretapping.
But the proposed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 face resistance in Congress. Democratic lawmakers have been pressing for more oversight of the domestic eavesdropping run by the National Security Agency before they agree to amend the laws, and they have become increasingly concerned by disclosures of abuses in other data collection programs, too.
A crucial Republican senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said in an interview that he believed that Congress might be reluctant to take significant action on the issue soon, because of legal challenges to the constitutionality of the domestic surveillance that are in the courts. Last year, a federal judge in Detroit ruled the program unconstitutional.
The administration has appealed to an appeals court in Cincinnati.
“I think this is all really going to have to await a decision by the courts on this matter,” said Mr. Specter, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Last year, when he was chairman of the judiciary panel, Mr. Specter proposed amending the surveillance act, called FISA, to bring the security agency program under the law, after intensive talks with the White House. The bill never passed, and he said he was now working with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, on a plan that could attract bipartisan support.
The administration proposal is similar to one last year by Representative Heather A. Wilson, Republican of New Mexico, that the White House did not endorse. The Republican-controlled Congress did not pass that measure, and the chances of a similar bill succeeding now that the Democrats are in control seem even slighter.
Democratic leaders and Congressional aides reacted cautiously to the White House plan, which administration officials will defend in hearings next week.
Representative Silvestre Reyes, the Texas Democrat who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he supported giving intelligence professionals “strong, modern tools to track terrorist communications.”
But Mr. Reyes said Mr. Bush’s proposal would commit him to the restrictions in the law. In January, the administration said the security agency would conduct domestic wiretaps within the FISA system, but did not explain precisely how it would do that.
Among the provisions of the proposal are changes to make it easier to monitor the communications of foreigners inside the United States. The plan would also apparently allow the surveillance of international telephone calls and e-mail messages routed through the American telecommunications system on the way from one foreign location to another.
The measure would expand the ability of the government to obtain search warrants from the secret court that approves domestic surveillance against foreigners in the United States.
The administration wants to be able to monitor individuals if they are believed to have intelligence information. The administration wants the authority to obtain warrants against individuals by showing that they are suspected of spreading unconventional weapons.
The proposal would also provide immunity for telecommunications companies that have cooperated with the eavesdropping program since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and would extend to a week from 72 hours the time for the government to seek a court-approved search warrant after it had already begun domestic surveillance.
Mr. Specter said he opposed the proposed immunity for telecommunications companies because the White House had never provided Congress with enough information about the role of the companies in the program.
“That provision is a pig in the poke,” Mr. Specter said. “There has never been a statement from the administration as to what these companies have done. That’s been an intolerable situation.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.

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