AP gets FISA, wiretapping authority wrong again

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

An AP article falsely suggested that the U.S. government does not currently have the authority to "eavesdrop[] on phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists." The article also claimed, "The Senate has already passed its version of the measure to renew the law, which expired Feb. 16." In fact, what expired on February 16 was the Protect America Act's revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; the federal government still has the authority under FISA to listen in on the communications of suspected terrorists. The AP made similar false suggestions in a January report.

In a February 27 report, the Associated Press falsely suggested that the U.S. government does not currently have the authority to "eavesdrop[] on phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists." The report stated: "President Bush lobbied the House again on Wednesday to pass an intelligence law allowing government eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists. Failure to renew the expired law is 'inexcusable' and 'indefensible,' Bush said." The AP article also claimed, "The Senate has already passed its version of the measure to renew the law, which expired Feb. 16." In fact, what expired on February 16 was the Protect America Act's (PAA) revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which, as Media Matters for America has noted, did not simply "allow[] government eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists," but rather, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant, among other things. Before Congress passed the PAA in August 2007, the government had the authority under FISA to listen in on the communications of suspected terrorists, and the government's authority under that law continues despite the expiration of the PAA.

Similarly, as Media Matters documented at the time, a January 24 AP report falsely asserted that the U.S. government would lose its "eavesdropping powers" if Congress did not reauthorize them by February 1 (the date the PAA was set to expire before Congress extended the expiration date until February 15). The January 24 report stated: "President Bush tried on Thursday to pressure congressional Democrats to extend and expand the government's eavesdropping powers, which expire in eight days. ... The law authorizes the administration to eavesdrop on phone calls and see the e-mail to and from suspected terrorists. Congress is bickering over terms of its extension."

From the February 27 Associated Press report:

President Bush lobbied the House again on Wednesday to pass an intelligence law allowing government eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists. Failure to renew the expired law is ''inexcusable'' and ''indefensible,'' Bush said.

''There is still an extremist threat,'' Bush said. ''People still want to attack our country. And we'd better understand what they're thinking, what they're planning and who they're talking to.''

The Senate has already passed its version of the measure to renew the law, which expired Feb. 16.

The Senate legislation would provide retroactive legal protection for telecommunications companies that wiretapped U.S. phone and computer lines at the government's request after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, without court permission. Bush backs giving the telecommunications companies immunity, but the House version does not include it.

''It's expired because people want to take class action lawsuits against private phone carriers and other companies that are believed to have helped us protect America,'' Bush said in the Oval Office while he met with the leader of the Czech Republic. ''It's not fair to say, ''It's important for you to help us and then you get sued for billions of dollars.''

The president's pitch was the latest installment in a long-running debate between Bush and congressional Democrats.

Bush, on his flight home from six days in Africa last week, told reporters that he sees no way to compromise with Democrats over giving retroactive lawsuit immunity to telecoms that helped the government eavesdrop. Instead, he said his strategy for breaking the legislative deadlock would involve hammering away about why Congress should pass the law on his terms.

Bush lobbied for the terrorist surveillance law in his radio address on Saturday, in welcoming the governors to the White House on Monday and in a political speech to Republican governors Monday night.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
Associated Press
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