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Ari Shapiro Explains...

So, there are a thousand things I read about every day that I don't understand. I can not understand the Texas voting system. I still don't quite understand the writer's strike. And I cannot, for the life of me, understand what's going on with FISA. But, Justice correspondent and TOTN fill-in host extraordinaire Ari Shapiro has agreed to put an explanation right here, in this very spot, that even idiot creative writing majors like me can understand. Here it is:

Congress first passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the 1970s, as a response to President Nixon's overreaching. The law created a secret court — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — inside the Justice Department. Congress told the White House that any time the President wants to wiretap an American in the US, he has to get permission from the judges on that court.

In 2005, the New York Times revealed that the Bush Administration established a secret wiretapping program after 9/11 that operated outside of FISA. The program tapped phone calls and email conversations with one end in the United States and one end overseas, without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. FISA has been amended many times since 1978, but the revelation of the Bush Administration's secret warrantless surveillance program prompted a new, far more heated debate about how to amend FISA again.

In August of 2007, Congress passed a bill called the "Protect America Act." It was essentially a short-term update to FISA. The Protect America Act established that the President does not need individual warrants to wiretap foreigners calling the United States, as long as the foreigners (and not the Americans on the other end of the call) are the target of the wiretap. The law would only last for six months, until Congress could come up with a more permanent solution. The bill did not include one provision that the Bush Admininstration badly wanted...immunity for telephone companies that cooperated with the White House's warrantless surveillance program after 9/11.

People who believe their privacy was violated under the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance program have sued the phone companies that allegedly cooperated with the White House on the wiretaps. President Bush says any new spying law must protect those phone companies by throwing out the lawsuits. The Senate included immunity in its bill, but the House did not. Last month, before the House and Senate could resolve the issue, the Protect America Act expired.

Now the House and Senate are negotiating on whether to include phone company immunity in a new FISA law. They say they could reach an agreement as early as this week.

— Ari Shapiro

PHEW. Thank you, Ari. Could you please explain superdelegates to me now?



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I don't think the telecom companies should be forced to pay any money for their eavesdropping after 911, simply because of the situation, but I do believe the records should be made public. At this point, it seems unlikely that those wire-taps would compromise the "war on terror". If people feel they were inappropriately wire-tapped, then light needs to be shed on this to determine that. A warrant should be necessary to wire-tap, they don't have to serve it to the person they are wire-tapping but at least use it for the telecom companies. This is the most direct way of avoiding legal troubles for these companies and avoiding unnecessary spying on innocent Americans.

Sent by Fiona | 2:25 PM | 3-3-2008

I suggest everyone go and the the film "The Lives of Others"

Sent by Betsy Skipp | 2:39 PM | 3-3-2008

This comment is in relation to your FISA discussion. Your guest is making statements that so transparently avoid the real dispute at issue. The issue is not that telecoms assisted the government in spying on potential terrorists in good faith. The issue is that this bill provides telecoms with immunity from prosecution for assisting the government in illegally spying on and violating the fourth amendment rights of U.S. citizens. Your guest mentioned that citizens had recourse to legal challenge - Is he not aware of the Supreme Court's recent decision to not hear the ACLU suit on the grounds that no party to the suit could show they had been monitored. As if that information wouldn't be withheld by the government with the excuse that it would reveal classified information.

Pardon me if I'm a bit sceptical of the benign intentions of your guest as they relate to how our society should operate. The NSA/CIA/FBI information-gathering apparatus has operated illegally throughout my lifetime and demonstrated on any number of occasions how completely unconcerned these men and women are with the rights of citizens. These agencies have intensified their efforts under the current administration and with its approval to the shame of our nation (from Abu Ghraib, to Guantanamo Bay to extraterritotial rendition,to wiretaps on the citizens) and to little or no effect in the areas they claim to have impact (i.e. preventing terrorism).

It is so disheartening to hear NPR allows them to come on the air and spout the hollow justifications for their own participation in the violations of our constitutional rights without challenging their naked assertions of executive, and dictatorial powers on the part of the government.
Your guest could not tangibly demonstrate that citizens' lives are risked if his agency and others are not allowed to operate without check. Our system of government was designed in part to help protect citzens from and check such abuses of power as your guest is promoting by calling for passage of the bill. Freedom of speech notwithstanding, NPR has no obligation to allow such ideas to be presented without challenge to their fundamental unconstitutionality. Oh, and did I forget to mention, 9/11 or Saddam Hussein and WMD's?

Sent by Jim Reuss | 2:52 PM | 3-3-2008