Thursday, June 8, 2006

E-surveillance restrictions a must

It’s been nearly six months since Americans first learned of the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping, sans a court order, on the email messages and telephone calls of some U.S. citizens. Despite the significant time lapse, action has yet to occur.
There is hope this could change. On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., prolonged his plan to question telephone companies about any cooperation with the NSA’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program. By putting off this questioning, Specter can turn the panel’s attention toward creating legislation aimed at dealing with the program’s source. The best chance of doing so lies in a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calf.
Opposition to legislation exists however, as some think no law should be put into place until the Bush administration comes clean and explains exactly what the Terrorist Surveillance Program consists of and why its goals weren’t attainable under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The law, known as FISA, requires a special court to approve electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens while allowing investigators to engage in warrentless wiretapping only in an emergency. However, the chances of receiving an honest explanation are slim. Instead, Congress must now apply some safeguards to what has become a free for all exercise by the administration.
Feinstein’s bill provides the opportunity to do this. Though the bill would extend from 72 hours to seven days the emergency period before investigators would have to seek a warrant, it would also clarify that FISA is the “exclusive means” through which the government may conduct electronic surveillance of citizens in the U.S. The bill would also deny any funding for surveillance outside the restrictions of the law (like that of the Terrorist Surveillance Program).
Though not a complete fix, this bill is a step in the right direction, and makes clear to the public the Bush administration’s actions are not being entirely overlooked.

Laura Michaels
Opinions editor

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