Issue Position: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
I am a strong supporter of the FISA legislation approved by the Senate on Tuesday, February 12, 2008. The legislation updates the FISA statute that governs the electronic and physical surveillance of foreign spies and terrorists. When FISA was enacted in 1978, it was intended to provide a lawful mechanism for the government to gather intelligence on spies within the United States. However, as technology advanced, FISA did not. As a result, our intelligence community was required to seek a court order to conduct electronic surveillance against an individual overseas communicating with another individual overseasneither of whom had any connection to the United States. This was not the intent of FISA, and our intelligence community was hamstrung in its efforts to detect and disrupt terrorist activity.
The Senate legislation also provides retroactive immunity for U.S. telecommunication firms who are being sued for their alleged assistance to the government in the President's Terrorist Surveillance Program after September, 11, 2001. I believe we should provide this relief to the companies to ensure that they continue providing assistance to the government and to protect classified information from exposure in a trial.
The House has failed to consider the Senate-passed FISA legislation, a carefully crafted bipartisan bill which will provide the Director of National Intelligence with the tools our Intelligence Community needs. Instead, the House crafted its own legislation that I believe is inadequate, does not address the problems with FISA, and contains provisions which may impede our intelligence collection.
I am disappointed the House did not pass the Senate FISA bill, and I believe the Senate legislation is still the best option for providing our intelligence community with the ability to collect the communications of terrorists and foreign spies abroad. I am concerned about the uncertainty created when Congress allowed the Protect America Act, the temporary fix to FISA that Congress passed in August of last year, to expire on February 16, 2008. This uncertainty has created a gap in our collection, a gap which may grow larger every day until Congress is able to provide a more permanent fix to the FISA statute and ensure cooperation from our telecommunication providers.