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An October 19 USA Today article falsely claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee's proposed revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) "would require the nation's foreign intelligence court for the first time to approve surveillance of overseas terrorism suspects who communicate with persons in the USA." Similarly, on the October 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle, echoing an earlier report, asserted that "the [House] Democratic bill would require a warrant if a foreign terrorist ever calls the U.S., something [FISA] has never required in its 30-year history." In fact, as Media Matters for America documented, with few exceptions, FISA -- as enacted in 1978 -- required the government to obtain a court order to conduct "electronic surveillance," which the law defines in part as "the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire communication to or from a person in the United States, without the consent of any party thereto, if such acquisition occurs in the United States."
It was only in August that Congress passed the Protect America Act (PAA), which excludes from FISA's definition of "electronic surveillance" any "surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States." The PAA is set to expire in February of 2008.
From the October 19 USA Today article titled "Dodd to block vote on eavesdropping bill":
The Senate bill approved Thursday allows the companies to have the suits dismissed if the U.S. attorney general attests that they helped programs critical to national security. Even companies that did not help intelligence agencies could also have suits dismissed based on the attorney general's certification to a judge.
The Senate bill also includes a provision backed by Democrats that would require the nation's foreign intelligence court for the first time to approve surveillance of overseas terrorism suspects who communicate with persons in the USA.
Telecoms shouldn't get immunity until the administration provides details on what the carriers did to help intelligence agencies, says Caroline Fredrickson of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We could be talking about not just lawsuits but lawbreaking," she said.
From the October 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: The Democratic bill, like the bill in August, aims to fix a quirk in the law that required warrants for American intelligence to listen to two terrorists, both overseas, if their communications pass through the U.S., as most Internet communications do. Democrats say their bill fixes that problem by allowing year-long blanket warrants for groups of terrorists.
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI): These orders are not individual warrants for Osama bin Laden or other terrorists. They allow surveillance of an entire terrorist group or other foreign power through a flexible court process.
ANGLE: Democrats and Republicans agree two foreign terrorists talking to each other should not require a warrant. But the Democratic bill would require a warrant if a foreign terrorist ever calls the U.S., something the law has never required in its 30-year history.
REP. LAMAR SMITH (R-TX): This bill, for the first time, requires a court order to monitor foreign persons outside the United States. If Osama bin Laden makes a call and we don't know who it's to, a court order must be obtained.