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FISA debate coverage

For those of you *trying* to follow the debate raging in D.C. about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the extension of the “Protect America Act of 2007”, please go on over to EmptyWheel and Crooks and Liars. Both have extensive coverage about it — with video! — and can help to wrap your heads around telco amnesty, basket warrants or reverse targeting, sequestration of illegally harvested evidence and other arcane but vitally important issues that can make or break the future of civil rights in the US.

RESTORE act and NSA permanent eavesdropping stations

“NSA’s Lucky Break: How the U.S. Became Switchboard to the World.” by Ryan Singel

Singel’s article provides an intriguing history lesson on internet architecture and the US role as an international communications hub. Too bad it’s not just a history lesson, but an explanation of current legislation making its way through Congress to give the NSA permanent eavesdropping capabilities on both foreign and domestic communication traffic.

The RESTORE Act (.pdf) (RESTORE = “Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective”) would extend the NSA’s power indefinitely but would “include some safeguards against abuse” (IMHO, an audit trail described in Sec 7 and 8 of the bill does little to safeguard against abuse!). Ironically, President Bush has vowed to veto RESTORE because it doesn’t extend retroactive legal immunity to telephone companies who cooperated in the NSA’s domestic surveillance before it was legalized. Of course the telecoms are lobbying hard for this immunity clause — AT&T is facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly wiretapping the internet at the behest of the NSA. Need to protect the industrial hand that feeds you eh?

A lucky coincidence of economics is responsible for routing much of the world’s internet and telephone traffic through switching points in the United States, where, under legislation introduced this week, the U.S. National Security Agency will be free to continue tapping it.

Leading House Democrats introduced the so-called RESTORE Act Tuesday that allows the nation’s spies to maintain permanent eavesdropping stations inside United States switching centers. Telecom and internet experts interviewed by Wired News say the bill will give the NSA legal access to a torrent of foreign phone calls and internet traffic that travels through American soil on its way someplace else.

But contrary to recent assertions by Bush administration officials, the amount of international traffic entering the United States is dropping, not increasing, experts say.

Increased NSA wiretap powers AND censure resolutions? BOOM!

Can you hear the sound of my head exploding over the intertubes? Anyone got a twist-tie?!

First there was the news over the weekend that Congress passed the Protect America Act of 2007 which changes the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and provides new powers to the National Security Agency to monitor communications that enter the United States and involve foreigners who are the subjects of a national security investigation (read the FAQ; listen to analysis from Glenn Greenwald, Marjorie Cohn, and Amy Goodman).

But now I just read that Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced resolutions calling for the censure (non-binding of course) of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for misleading the country in pursuing war with Iraq and for undermining the rule of law.

How can that be that the same Congress that would give National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales joint authority to approve the monitoring of calls and e-mails, rather than the 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (basically making legal the warrentless domestic spy program) could be the same legislative body that calls for censure of top administration officials including the Attorney General who will have the increased authority to undermine the rule of law?!

[Thanks PS Mueller!]

Military Expands Intelligence Role in U.S.

New York Times reporters Eric Lichtbaum and Maek Mazzetti report in the January 14, 2007 issue, about the expanding role of the U. S. military in domestic espionage, and deletions in a U.S. Army Manual that may indicate the executive branch is once again wiretapping without a warrant.

The Pentagon has been using a little-known power to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of terrorism or espionage inside the U.S.

(Military Expands Intelligence Role in U.S., by Eric Lichtbaum and Maek Mazzetti.)

Deep into an updated Army manual, the deletion of 10 words has left some national security experts wondering whether government lawyers are again asserting the executive branch’s right to wiretap Americans without a court warrant.

(Deletions in Army Manual Raise Wiretapping Concerns, by Eric Lichtbaum and Maek Mazzetti)

A subscription to the New York Times is required to read these articles.

Federal court finds warrantless eavesdropping unconstitutional

Hot off the presses:

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government’s warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency’s program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy.

Glenn Greenwald is tracking and analyzing the issue and has updated several times. He includes links to both the opinion and the injunction.