Monday, July 07, 2008

The New FISA Compromise: It's Worse Than You Think

Timothy B. Lee writes on ARS Technica:

Last month, the House of Representatives passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Congress's latest response to President Bush's demands for expanded eavesdropping authority. The Democratic leadership, seemingly intent on avoiding real debate on the proposal, scheduled the final vote just a day after the bill was introduced in the House. Touted by Democratic leaders as a "compromise," it was supported almost unanimously by House Republicans and opposed by a majority of Democrats.

The 114-page bill was pushed through the House so quickly that there was no real time to debate its many complex provisions. This may explain why the telecom immunity provision has received so much attention in the media: it is much easier to explain to readers not familiar with the intricacies of surveillance law than the other provisions. But as important as the immunity issue is, the legislation also makes many prospective changes to surveillance law that will profoundly impact our privacy rights for years to come.

Specifically, the new legislation dramatically expands the government's ability to wiretap without meaningful judicial oversight, by redefining "oversight" so that the feds can drag their feet on getting authorization almost indefinitely. It also gives the feds unprecedented new latitude in selecting eavesdropping targets, latitude that could be used to collect information on non-terrorist-related activities like P2P copyright infringement and online gambling. In short, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 opens up loopholes so large that the feds could drive a truck loaded down with purloined civil liberties through it. So the telecom immunity stuff is just the smoke; let's take a look at the fire.

More here.


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