[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Friday chided the US House of Representatives for failing to pass [WH fact sheet] the FISA Amendments Act [S 2248 materials] before leaving for a 12-day recess, saying that the US would be in greater danger of an attack when the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials; JURIST report] expires on Saturday. The US Senate voted 68-29 [JURIST report] Tuesday to pass the FISA Amendments Act, but the House failed to pass the bill this week. The version approved by the Senate provides immunity for telecommunications companies [JURIST report] from lawsuits related to their participation in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. The House version [HR 3773 materials] of the legislation, approved [JURIST report] in November, does not include the immunity provisions. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected Bush's comments [press release] Friday, saying:
The President is misrepresenting the facts on our nation's electronic surveillance capabilities. Last August, he insisted that Congress pass the Protect America Act; but this week, he refused to support an extension, which can only mean he knows our intelligence agencies will be able to do all the wiretapping they need to do to protect the nation. That surveillance can be undertaken under broad orders authorized under the PAA or under orders that can be obtained through the FISA court.The FISA Amendments Act, supplementary to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text], would make it easier for the government to monitor foreign phone calls and e-mails that pass through the United States. Strong critics of the legislation, including Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) [official website], have deplored its retroactive grant of immunity to participating telecom companies as an effective endorsement of warrantless wiretapping contrary to the rule of law [transcript; recorded video]. In the absence of new legislation, the government can get an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor calls and e-mails, set up under FISA. Amendment supporters have rejected this option, saying it creates too much red tape. AP has more.
The President knows the facts; if he did not want the PAA to expire this weekend, he should have supported an extension of it, as the overwhelming majority of House Democrats did on Wednesday. Having guaranteed the lapse of the August law, the President should now work in a cooperative way with Congress to pass a strong FISA modernization bill that protects our nation's security and the Constitution.