Dear Ms. :
I write this in response to your communication indicating your concerns on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) now before the Senate. This bill has passed the House of Representatives.
This legislation contains multiple sections, including one that deals specifically with liability for telecommunications companies. However, the primary intent to this new bill is to modernize our intelligence gathering capacity. The technology and communications industries have seen vast changes in the past thirty years since FISA was first written in 1978. This has changed the way surveillance is conducted, and the original law cannot adequately address these procedures. This is precisely why FISA needs to be modernized.
It is important to understand the consequences if the Senate does not pass this bill. We would either have to extend the temporary surveillance bill passed last August - which should not happen - or allow surveillance on certain foreign targets to expire which would lay the Nation bare and decrease our ability to identify and protect against terrorist threats. Neither of these options is acceptable.
I strongly believe that this bill is substantially better than the version the Senate passed in February 2008, which I opposed. It is also a major improvement from the Protect America Act that passed in August 2007, which had few privacy protections and was never intended to be a permanent solution. This bill:
oIncludes provisions I authored that make clear that FISA is the exclusive (or only) authority for conducting surveillance inside the United States. This is crucial as it requires that all future Presidents must act only within the law. FISA would be the only legal authority for conducting surveillance on Americans for intelligence purposes, and only legislation that specifically provides wiretapping authority in the future would be an exception to FISA.
oRequires the government to obtain a warrant before surveillance can begin. This applies to all Americans - anywhere in the world. The Protect America Act allowed surveillance for up to six months before getting a warrant. This bill ends all warrantless surveillance of U.S. persons. In this sense it is precedent setting.
oBans reverse targeting, which was a concern under the Protect America Act. Reverse targeting would allow the government to collect the contents of telephone calls and e-mails of an American by conducting surveillance on the people with whom they communicate. This is prohibited in this bill.
oRequires that the government implement procedures approved by the Court for minimization. If an American's communication is incidentally caught up in electronic surveillance while the Government is targeting someone else, minimization protects that person's private information. This has been a hallmark of FISA for 30 years, but court review and approval of minimization procedures was not included in the Protect America Act. It is here.