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The national security of the United States is not something that should be a matter of political gamesmanship. However, one must question whether such is going on in the House of Representatives.
The issue is the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA). It was adopted in 1978 to provide judicial and congressional oversight of the U. S. Government’s covert surveillance activities of foreign entities and individuals in the United States, while maintaining the secrecy needed to protect national security. FISA allows warrantless surveillance of foreigners by the United States for up to one year unless the "surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party". If a United States person is involved, judicial authorization is required.
The FISA law of 1978 has worked well, but it could not have anticipated the rapid advances in technology that have taken place in the past 15 years, especially the advent of cell phones and the ability to make phone calls over the Internet. The administration has urged Congress to update the FISA law to include the ability to use warrantless wiretaps on cell phone calls that originate outside the United States. These calls can pass through the U. S. on the way to their ultimate destination. Since 9/11, American-based phone companies have cooperated with the U. S. government and provided information on the origination of suspected terrorist-related calls placed from outside our country. The administration has contended that because terrorists act at a moment’s notice, it endangers our national security to wait 72 hours for a court review to learn the identity of the person placing the call from a foreign country.
Because, these warrantless wiretaps have been in progress for over six years, some civil liberties lawyers have sought to sue the phone companies for cooperating with the government in these wiretaps, even though no American citizen has been the target of a warrantless wiretap. The administration has asked Congress to include an exemption for the telecommunications companies in legislation renewing the FISA law. In February, the Senate agreed on a bi-partisan vote of 68-to-29. The House was expected to follow suit, so that the FISA law would not expire.
Instead, the House majority leadership let the law expire and then apparently bowed to pressure from the trial lawyers; a group that gives millions of dollars to Democratic candidates in election campaigns and refused to bring up the Senate-passed measure, which already has enough announced support in the House to win approval. As evidence of the importance of trial lawyers to the Democratic war chest, a columnist has provided figures showing that 66 trial lawyers who represent plaintiffs in suits against telecommunications companies have contributed $1.5 million to Democratic candidates and causes.
Instead, the House leadership forced through passage of a FISA “light” renewal bill that does not include immunity for the telecommunications companies that have cooperated with the government in tapping the calls placed from outside the U. S. I voted against this bill; there is no indication that the Senate will go along with it, and the President has said that he will veto it.
Meanwhile, our nation remains much less secure, and I believe that it is vital for Congress to act quickly to agree to a new FISA bill that will help to protect us from terrorists.
Please keep in touch with me on issues that are important to you. You may write Congressman Virgil Goode, 70 East Court Street, Room 215, Rocky Mount, VA 24151; or fax to 1-540-484-1459; or call toll-free to the Danville office, 1-800-535-4008.