Saturday, August 18, 2007

Legislate in haste, repent at leisure

By Libby
Uodated below

Now they freak out? It comes as no surprise to me that the blank check on domestic surveillance Congress handed to the White House before they hurried off to their vacation homes is much bigger than anyone realized.
Several legal experts said that by redefining the meaning of “electronic surveillance,” the new law narrows the types of communications covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, by indirectly giving the government the power to use intelligence collection methods far beyond wiretapping that previously required court approval if conducted inside the United States.

These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns.

For instance, the legislation would allow the government, under certain circumstances, to demand the business records of an American in Chicago without a warrant if it asserts that the search concerns its surveillance of a person who is in Paris, experts said.

Civil rights watchdogs rightly suspect the administration delberately pushed through broad language on the "emergency" measure, while a White House spokesmouth claims the concerns are "speculative" and assures us that the intent of the administration is to use it solely to pursue terrorists. Right, tell it to the Quakers. Whatever their true intent, the fact remains, under the broad language, oversight is nearly meaningless and the court, as Marc Rothenberg points out, "has been turned into a mere spectator."

The arguments either way are moot however, since the White House has already taken the position that they don't give a flying leap what Congress does, they intend to do whatever they damn well please under their interpretation of the president's "constitutional authority."

The NYT also offers this tidbit.
Mr. Bush issued a so-called signing statement about the legislation when he signed it into law, but the statement did not assert his presidential authority to override the legislative limits.

Unfortunately they fail to tell us what it did say and they continue to ply the false assertion that the legislation will sunset in six months. There is actually a provision in the bill that allows the administration to extend it an additional six months without Congressional approval.

The Democrats are now wringing their hands over their hastiness in caving into Bush's fear-mongering and pledges to readdress it in September abound. They should save their crocodile tears. They knew darn well that were handing carte blanche over to Bush and Fredo and never should have passed the ill-advised bill in the first place. A little mea culpa now isn't going to buy my forgiveness for their political cowardice. If they want absolution, they should revoke the measure immediately.

Update: For those who prefer the wonkish version, Tim F. assembles a comprehensive explanation of the legalese.

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