On America's Newsroom, Fox News' Steve Centanni conflated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with the Protect America Act, asserting that President Bush is "urging Congress, pushing Congress, to pass the extension of FISA, or what he calls the Protect America Act." In fact, the 1978 FISA law established the federal government's underlying statutory authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists, while the PAA, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant.
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On the February 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, previewing President Bush's press conference that day, Fox News national correspondent Steve Centanni asserted that Bush is "urging Congress, pushing Congress, to pass the extension of FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], or what he calls the Protect America Act [PAA]," falsely suggesting that FISA and the PAA are one and the same. Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented media conflating the 1978 FISA law, which established the federal government's underlying statutory authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists, and revisions to FISA under the PAA, which, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. By conflating the two statutes, the media are promoting the false suggestion -- advanced by supporters of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program -- that upon the expiration of the PAA on February 15, the government no longer has the authority to spy on suspected terrorists. In fact, under FISA, it still does. Further, contrary to Centanni's suggestion, the PAA is the name given the legislation by Congress and not Bush's preferred name for FISA.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted in a February 13 statement that "the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for the surveillance of terrorists and provides that in emergencies surveillance can begin without warrant, remains intact and available to our intelligence agencies." Further, a February 14 New York Times article reported:
The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.
If a new terrorist group is identified after Saturday, intelligence officials would not be able to use the broadened eavesdropping authority. They would be able to seek a warrant under the more restrictive standards in place for three decades through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
From the February 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
MEGYN KELLY (co-host): Back now to Washington, D.C., and just about an hour from now, President Bush will hold a press conference in the White House briefing room -- the president expected to talk about several concerns, including his two big issues right now: One, a terrorist surveillance law that Congress let expire; and two, an economic growth package that will help ease the mortgage crisis.
Steve Centanni is live for us at the White House. Steve, hi. Let's start with this terrorist surveillance issue. Where exactly does that law stand now?
CENTANNI: Well, it's stalled on Capitol Hill, and this has made the president very agitated and angry. Every time he gets near a microphone lately, he's been talking about that, urging Congress, pushing Congress, to pass the extension of FISA, or what he calls the Protect America Act. Now, this is a law that makes it easier to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists.
This law has expired. The president wants Congress to pass the Senate version of that bill, which allows for granting immunity to the telecommunications companies, or the phone companies, that have been cooperating with the U.S. government in trying to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists overseas. Democrats have opposed that, saying they do not want to supply that kind of immunity to the private enterprise system. The White House saying without that there is no program at all, and America is a much more dangerous place. We need this to be passed. We expect him to say that again today during his eight-minute opening statement, Megyn.