House Passes 15 Day Extension to Protect America Act

The House has voted to extend by 15 days the Protect America Act. In November the House passed the RESTORE Act, which provides the Intelligence Community with effective tools to conduct surveillance of foreign targets outside the United States but restores Constitutional checks and balances that were not contained in the Protect America Act, but the House passed this extension to grant the Senate the time necessary to pass a suitable companion bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the extension:

“Congress must update the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act by passing a bill that protects both our national security and our civil liberties. The House has already passed such a bill, the RESTORE Act, which provides flexible surveillance tools for the intelligence community while protecting the constitutional rights of Americans, and I hope the Senate will now follow suit.”

Chairman John Conyers of the Judiciary Committee spoke in favor of the short extension:

Chairman Conyers: “We passed the RESTORE Act in November to provide sound FISA reform. The Senate is, at this moment, completing the action. This extension will give us time to consider responsible FISA reform in both houses of the Congress while fully preserving current intelligence capabilities while we do so. And I hope that everyone would agree that this is the most responsible approach for protecting our freedom as well as our security. I further hope we all agree we need to consider FISA reform responsibly with the care it deserves, and to preserve the prerogatives of the House to have our own voice heard.”

Rep. Jane Harman (CA-36) spoke in favor of the short extension:

Rep. Harman: “But Madam Speaker, I feel compelled to correct the record. Last night in his State of the Union Address, the President said, quote, if Congress does not act by Friday, ‘our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened, and our citizens will be in greater danger,’ unquote. As a Member who worries 24/7 about terrorist threats against our country, I strongly object to that statement. It is inaccurate and yet again, a bald-faced attempt to play the fear card and to jam Congress into gutting a carefully crafted three-decades-old bipartisan law called FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA, Madam Speaker, does not expire on Friday. Only the Protect America Act amendments to FISA expire on Friday. This country will not go dark on Friday. Our government has aggressively used surveillance tools, and in the past year or so, secured warrants in compliance with FISA. Those warrants do not expire on Friday. As for the claim that citizens will be in greater danger, in my view, actions that fail to follow the laws Congress passes and ignore the requirements of the 4th Amendment put our democracy in grave danger.”

NPR agreed in their analysis of the President Bush’s speech:

Legal Affairs
Extending the Warrantless Wiretapping Law
by Tom Gjelten

What Bush Said: President Bush challenged Congress to pass new legislation that would help the U.S. government “know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning.” He was referring to the government’s ability to carry out wiretapping of communications — phone calls or e-mails — involving suspected terrorists who are overseas. The authority to do that is in the Protect America Act, a six-month measure that is set to expire Friday.

“This means that if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened, and our citizens will be in greater danger,” the president said.

Analysis: In fact, no current wiretapping of suspected terrorist communications will have to be halted if Congress does not act by Friday. The law may expire, but the authority to continue surveillance already in progress remains in effect at least until August. That’s because under the Protect America Act, those authorities were given for a year. There would be no “disruption” of the wiretaps that have already been authorized. However, if the law expires Friday, the attorney general would not be able to ask for any new intercepts. That means if intelligence collected through current wiretaps produces a new lead, the government may not be able to follow that up.

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