There seems to be a recurring error in a few right-wing websites’ coverage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) debates. What had been debated was the extension of the Protect America Act, which expanded the President’s warrantless surveillance powers by removing some communications from FISA court review. The PAA was passed last summer in a hurried session, and was set to expire early this year.
But the way the debate has been pushed by some people, you’d think that it was the FISA law itself — passed in 1978 — and the surveillance structure it created, that was coming to an end. They’re wrong.
For example, Amanda Carpenter at Townhall writes:
Instead of working to reauthorize FISA legislation, the Democratic House of Representatives is using precious floor time to debate charges of contempt against former White House aide Josh Bolton and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.
The FISA bill, which regulates how the government monitors terrorist communications, expires Saturday. Hugh talked about how important this law is here.
Not true. FISA lives on. On Monday, surveillance can still happen under not only last summer’s regime, but also any surveillance going on under the PAA is permitted to continue.
But It’s not just a young townhall blogger that gets it wrong. The National Review also writes:
Here is the bottom line: The legal authority for the United States intelligence community to collect foreign intelligence — information that protects Americans from terrorist attacks and that our soldiers in harm’s way rely on to do their duty — will expire at midnight on Friday. And Democrats are perfectly willing to allow that to happen.
Again, wrong. The entire intelligence collection regime as it existed last summer — plus some more programs authorized under the PAA — will still continue. They’re also wrong on the politics here: the republicans have also been rejecting PAA extensions, and the president has said he’ll reject any bill which does not include immunity for those who broke the law while participating in warrantless surveillance. So there are a lot of people who are “perfectly willing to allow [PAA expiration] to happen.”
Although, to be fair, maybe left wing blogs are making the same mistake.