The NY Times says:
Two months after vowing to roll back broad new wiretapping powers won by the Bush administration, Congressional Democrats appear ready to make concessions that could extend some of the key powers granted to the National Security Agency.
A Democratic bill to be proposed Tuesday in the House would maintain for several years the type of broad, blanket authority for N.S.A. wiretapping that the administration secured in August for just six months. But in an acknowledgment of civil liberties concerns, the measure would also require a more active role by the special foreign intelligence court that oversees the N.S.A.’s interception of foreign-based communications.
Was it just a couple of days ago that Kos, etc., were crowing about the progressive caucus and how this band of crusaders had put a stop to the evil plot of the Bush administration to riffle through Americans’ private communications?
Sure was. As I discussed here, I felt like the uber-libs had some good ideas that should be considered in a bi-partisan manner. That seems unlikely to happen now as the Dems are planning to give the president most of what he wanted even as they play up modest changes to the August version.
The bill to be proposed Tuesday by the Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees would impose more controls over the N.S.A.’s powers, including quarterly audits by the Justice Department’s inspector general. It would also give the foreign intelligence court a role in approving, in advance, “basket” or “umbrella” warrants for bundles of overseas communications, according to a Congressional official.
A competing proposal in the Senate, still being drafted, may be even closer in line with the administration’s demands, with the possibility of including retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that took part in the N.S.A.’s once-secret program to wiretap without court warrants.
Given the compromise that will likely take place between the houses, it’s arguable that the only real area in which Democrats have held fast so far is that of withholding amnesty for telecommunications companies who cooperated with the government’s requests for information prior to the passage of the Protect America Act in August.
Given that the companies have immunity for future acts, I don’t really see this an issue of any true import. What’s the point in harassing American corporations about the past when a Democratic Congress has already given its blessing to the same acts in the present?
Politics. For the Dems it’s all about saying that they accomplished something – “We held those treacherous telecoms/robber barons’ feet to the fire for cooperating with us!” – when in fact they’ve done absolutely nothing since being elected last year. Sigh.
On a more positive note, Democrats are still at least playing lip service to one other important aspect of the surveillance debate:
a senior Democratic aide said House leaders are working hard to make sure the administration does not succeed in pushing through a bill that would make permanent all the powers it secured in August for the N.S.A. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” the aide said.
That is good news. In the immortal words of Prince, forever is a mighty long time. Far too long to be without recourse as Big Brother watches over our shoulders.