The New FISA Law -- and the Misleading Media Coverage Of It:
I've been studying the new FISA legislation, as well as the press coverage of it, and so far I've found a major disconnect between the two. The MSM is presenting the new legislation as a major expansion of government surveillance powers. Here is how the Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times introduced the Senate's passage of the bill:
  The Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to a major expansion of the government’s surveillance powers, handing President Bush one more victory in a series of hard-fought clashes with Democrats over national security issues.
  The measure, approved by a vote of 69 to 28, is the biggest revamping of federal surveillance law in 30 years.
  But is that true? The new law is very complicated, and I've only been studying it for a few hours. It's quite possible that I'm missing something important. But based on my first reading, the media coverage of the new law strikes me as quite inaccurate.

  As I see it, the new law takes the basic approach of the Protect America Act of 2007 and adds privacy protections and bolsters the scope of judicial review. On the whole, the new law strikes me as pretty good legislation: It nicely responds to the widely expressed fears last year about how the Protect America Act could be implemented. and it ensures that the FISA Court will play a major role in reviewing surveillance of individuals located outside the U.S. Indeed, it seems to me that the new rules create pretty much the regime that critics of the Protect America Act wanted back in 2007.

  So the question is, why is the press coverage painting such a different picture? I think there's a reason, but it doesn't have very much to do with the new surveillance rules. In this post, I want to summarize how the new surveillance rules compare to those under the Protect America Act of 2007, and then I want to consider why the press is reporting the new law as it is.

  First, a bit of background. The legal rules for monitoring individuals outside the United States has become an important issue under FISA because many foreign Internet and telephone communications are now routed through the United States in the course of delivery. For example, a person in Pakistan who calls another person in Pakistan might have the call routed through New York. This creates an opportunity for monitoring of that communication from inside the network of the provider located in New York.

  The legal question is, what kinds of rules should govern monitoring directed at targets overseas from inside the United States? The original FISA of 1978 wasn't supposed to regulate surveillance of individuals outside the United States, but then back in those days you didn't have foreign to foreign calls routed through the U.S. So what happens when technology changes?

  The Protect America Act of 2007 required the Executive to submit plans for monitoring individuals overseas to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The FISC would then determine whether the monitoring plans were “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” So long as it was not “clearly erroneous” that the proposals were “reasonably” so directed, the FISC had to approve the monitoring. The monitoring could occur for one year. See 50 U.S.C. §§ 1805B (2007). But the Protect America Act sunset after six months, requiring new legislation to be passed if Congress wished to authorize such surveillance in the future.

  At the broadest level, the new Act continues the basic approach of the Protect America Act while adding more judicial review in significant ways. As in the Protect America Act, the government submits monitoring plan to the FISC as to whether the monitoring plans were "directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States." The FISC then reviews the plan to see whether it does so or not. At the same time, it looks to me like the new law has considerably more judicial review than the Protect America Act.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Assessing Surveillance Laws in An Era of Sunset Provisions:
  2. Strange Op-Ed By Chris Hedges:
  3. The New FISA Law -- and the Misleading Media Coverage Of It: