Jul 14 2008 -
Last week, the Senate came together to approve legislation that protects our nation by providing our intelligence agencies the tools they need to monitor terrorist communications. This legislation, an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, commonly referred to as FISA, was approved by a bipartisan vote of 69 to 28. The measure was then signed into law by President Bush.
By modernizing FISA, Congress took important steps to update our intelligence laws while also providing civil liberties protections for law-abiding Americans. Additionally, the measure provided liability protection for American companies who are working with our government to prevent future terrorist attacks.
KEEPING AMERICA SECURE
FISA was initially created in 1978 as a way to protect the rights of Americans and govern how our country gathers foreign intelligence. However, because of changes in technology, the outdated FISA law was causing a dangerous intelligence gap, as terrorists and those wanting to do our country harm were often able to stay ahead of our intelligence agencies by using common-day technology that wasn’t present when FISA was written 30 years ago.
Last year, Congress passed a temporary law that updated FISA to reflect today’s technology and enable our intelligence gatherers to adapt to the sophisticated threats posed by terrorists. That temporary law expired in February, which made passing a new FISA bill a top priority.
HELPING GATHER INTELLIGENCE
In addition to providing strong privacy protections for American citizens, the recently-passed FISA bill contains an important provision that protects American telecommunications companies from lawsuits stemming from the voluntary help they provided the government following the September 11 attacks. These companies acted in good faith to help our country monitor terrorist communications, and in order to ensure they continue to provide help in the future, it was important that they be shielded from potentially crippling lawsuits. As FBI Director Robert Mueller said at a Senate hearing earlier this year: “In this day and age, our ability to gain intelligence on the plans, the plots of those who wish to attack us is dependent upon us obtaining information relating to cell phones, the Internet, e-mail, wire transfers, all of these areas. My concern is that if we do not have this immunity [for telecommunications companies], we will not have that willing support of the communications carriers.”
While it has been almost seven years since terrorists attacked our country, they continue to plot against America and our allies. Since 2001, we have foiled threats at home in New Jersey and Illinois and abroad in Denmark, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. As Admiral Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, recently reminded us: “Al Qaeda remains the preeminent terror threat against the United States, both here at home and abroad.”
The greatest responsibility our government has is providing for the protection of the American people. By modernizing FISA, we have taken an important step toward achieving that goal by updating the laws that govern our intelligence collection while giving our intelligence agencies the tools they need to keep us safe.