Friday, July 14, 2006

Bush to let the FISA Court to review NSA wiretapping

President Bush has agreed, according to the NYT, to allow the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the legality of the NSA domestic surveillance which he authorised.

"If approved by Congress, the deal would put the court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in the unusual position of deciding whether the wiretapping program is a legitimate use of the president’s power to fight terrorism...

The Bush administration had argued since the program’s disclosure last December that no Congressional or judicial oversight was needed because the surveillance fell within the president’s constitutional authority.

Some critics of the program saw the White House’s reversal on that issue as a significant concession. But Representative Heather A. Wilson, Republican of New Mexico, who leads the intelligence subcommittee that oversees the National Security Agency, said Thursday in an interview that she found the idea of the court ruling on the legality of the entire program “a little odd.”

“That to me is not what the FISA court is set up to do,” she said. “The judges approve warrants — they’re not there to rule on matters of constitutionality.”"

Update: Jack Balkin and Marty Lederman have some strong words about the deal. Balkin says it's a sham and Lederman calls it a monstrosity.

"Although the one-time judicial review provision is worrisome, it is by no means the most troubling thing about this bill. Specter's proposed legislation, if passed in its present form, would give President Bush everything he wants. And then some. At first glance, Specter's bill looks like a moderate and wise compromise that expands the President's authority to engage in electronic surveillance under a variety of Congressional and judicial oversight procedures. But read more closely, it actually turns out to be a virtual blank check to the Executive, because under section 801 of the bill the President can route around every single one of them. Thus, all of the elegant machinery of the bill's oversight provisions is, I regret to report, a complete and total sham. Once the President obtains the powers listed in section 801, the rest of the bill is pretty much irrelevant. He will be free of Congressional oversight forever."

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