As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

FISA Update

I'm still trying to get a handle on what happened today in the Senate Judiciary Committee with regard to the FISA bill. I know that the bill cleared the committee on a party-line vote. That's not a horrible bill, as it includes this important distinction: "One of the key changes approved by the committee would make clear the FISA law is the exclusive authority for approving warrants for electronic surveillance."

But that was just the "Title I" part of the bill. In "Title II," there was the provision for telecom immunity. Russ Feingold offered an amendment stripping it out. It failed. Sheldon Whitehouse and DiFi (who voted for telecom immunity in the Intelligence Committee) were joined by Herb Kohl and all the Republicans in keeping it in.

But the question is, what will get to the Senate floor? Here's Ryan Singel for Wired:

Civil liberties groups got a stunningly unexpected win Thursday as the Senate Judiciary panel passed their version of the new government spying bill out of committee without including a provision giving immunity to telecoms being sued for helping the government secretly spy on Americans.

The biggest winner from the development is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose suit against AT&T in federal court would almost certainly have been wiped out by the immunity provision.

The provision - which was part of the version passed by the Senate Intelligence committee in mid-October - was widely expected to make it into the bill, due to the administration's full court press on the issue, the telcos small army of lobbyists and the vocal support of California Democrat Dianne Feintstein. Feinstein's vote was expected to reverse the Dems 10-9 advantage in the committee.

But after a long day of complicated finagling over technical amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and proposed alternatives to total immunity for companies such as AT&T and Verizon, committeee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) decided to send the bill out of committee without an agreement on immunity.

In other words, only Title I was pushed out of committee. But this is not definitive. First of all, the Intelligence and Judiciary bills need to be combined into one bill on the floor. So amnesty for telecoms could still wind up in there. And at that point, even a strong stand by Chris Dodd with a filibuster would be difficult to keep back the tide. Apparently his Senatorial hold doesn't mean anything.

On the House side, it looks like the RESTORE Act will pass, and there's no amnesty in that bill. So even if amnesty winds up making it through the Senate, it'd have to be reconciled with the House bill. Finally, both the Senate and House bills include provisions that Bush has signaled he'll veto, so all of this may be a moot point. The question there is whether we'll see yet another capitulation or whether the Democrats will simply let the temporary fix expire and revert back to the original FISA provisions.

A lot to understand. There's still a lot at play here. But we do know that Dianne Feinstein loves her some Bush Republican policies.

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