[Marxism] WSJ: Interim Wiretap Plan Proposed [by Democrats]

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Aug 2 10:20:23 MDT 2007

August 2, 2007
Interim Wiretap Plan Proposed
August 2, 2007; Page A4

WASHINGTON -- A Democratic proposal that would expand federal
surveillance powers for six months avoids the sensitive question of
whether telecommunications companies should be absolved of legal
liabilities for aiding the government's intelligence activities.

The interim legislation, proposed yesterday by Sen. Jay Rockefeller
(D., W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would
give the Bush administration expanded powers to monitor
telecommunications traffic as part of its counterterrorism efforts.

The proposal, which still is being negotiated with the administration
and doesn't yet have the full support of some key Democrats such as
Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, would need to gain sweeping
approval from the Senate and House this week to be approved before
Congress leaves for its August recess. Last night, senior
Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Kit Bond of
Missouri offered their own interim fix to the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act on behalf of the administration. Their plan differed
from the Democratic plan in key elements, including how much say
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would have in devising rules for

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have pursued
civil cases against telephone companies, including AT&T Inc. and
Verizon Communications Inc., alleging that the companies violated
privacy laws by turning over customer information to federal
investigators. At least one company, Qwest Communications
International Inc., resisted the surveillance requests because they
came without court orders.

The Bush administration has proposed that telecom companies be
protected from liability for aiding government surveillance,
including the National Security Agency's controversial
warrantless-wiretap program. The Rockefeller plan doesn't address the
question of liability.

The proposed interim law would let a secret court that administers
the 1978 FISA law, not the attorney general alone, as the Bush
administration would prefer, approve procedures governing
surveillance of telecommunications between people abroad, and in the
U.S., Democrats say they will update FISA later this year with a more
permanent solution.

The Bush administration says the update is needed to fix the
unforeseen applications of a law written almost three decades ago.
With the advent of cellphones and the Internet, communications
overseas may be routed through the U.S., where they would be subject
to much stricter privacy rules.

Mr. Rockefeller said he was acting with urgency in pushing the
interim legislation after receiving a letter from Michael McConnell,
director of national intelligence, warning that the current "threat
environment" required an immediate fix to the FISA law to ensure
investigators didn't miss anything.

Telecom executives, meanwhile, have kept a low profile on Capitol
Hill, letting the administration push for liability protections and
declining to take a public position on the bill. A spokesman for AT&T
issued the company's standard statement, saying, "AT&T is fully
committed to protecting our customers' privacy. AT&T does not comment
on matters of national security." A Verizon spokesman declined to

Congressional aides say they expect the telecom-liability provisions
to resurface later this year on Capitol Hill, which could land the
telecom providers in a political minefield as the
presidential-campaign season heats up.

The administration's effort to update FISA has also become bogged
down in a series of controversies surrounding Mr. Gonzales. Members
of Congress have accused him of lying to them about the separate Bush
administration program that authorized surveillance by the NSA
without the FISA court approval. The Republican proposal last night,
allows the attorney general and the director of national intelligence
to produce guidelines for surveillance, but allows for review by the
secret FISA court.

Some key Republicans, notably Sen. Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania,
joined with Democrats in objecting to giving Mr. Gonzales more power,
saying "I am concerned by provisions of the proposed legislation
which would give extensive authority to the attorney general.
Regrettably, Attorney General Gonzales does not enjoy the confidence
of many, if not most, members of Congress."

Telecom companies have been in the crosshairs of privacy advocates
and members of Congress as more information has been revealed about
the NSA program. Some members of Congress have pushed for wider
investigations of telephone companies that cooperated with the
government, arguing that they had a legal responsibility to protect
their customers' privacy and should have resisted requests unless the
government obtained court orders for the information.

Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court in California refused the
administration's request to stop lawsuits filed by several states
against telecom providers seeking information on what they provided
to the NSA. Several states, including Missouri, Maine, New Jersey,
Connecticut and Vermont, have launched investigations of telecom
companies, under their public-utilities laws.

Tim Sparapani, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says
the ACLU "will fight to the bitter end any giveaway to companies that
willfully break the law."

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