AP falsely claimed "government's eavesdropping powers" set to "expire in eight days"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

An Associated Press article falsely asserted that the U.S. government would lose its "eavesdropping powers" if Congress does not reauthorize them by February 1. In fact, only revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act made in August 2007 would expire.

A January 24 Associated Press report about the Senate debate on proposed revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) falsely asserted that the U.S. government would lose its "eavesdropping powers" if Congress does not reauthorize them by February 1. The 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." In fact, FISA, the principal law that "authorizes the administration to eavesdrop on phone calls and see the e-mail to and from suspected terrorists," does not expire on February 1. What expires are the August 2007 revisions to FISA made through the Protect America Act (PAA), which, in effect, expanded the government's powers to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant, as Media Matters for America has noted. According to the PAA's "transition procedures," if those revisions expire on February 1, all new authorizations for surveillance would be governed by the FISA statute as it existed prior to the PAA revisions, while all current authorizations would remain in effect until their scheduled expiration date. Before Congress amended FISA in August 2007, the government could "eavesdrop on phone calls and see the e-mail to and from suspected terrorists," but needed to obtain a court order under most circumstances if the communications involved persons in the United States.

From the January 24 Associated Press report:

President Bush tried on Thursday to pressure congressional Democrats to extend and expand the government's eavesdropping powers, which expire in eight days.

Bush, in a written statement, said the law has allowed the intelligence community to monitor the communications of terrorists.

"Congress' action or lack of action on this important issue will directly affect our ability to keep Americans safe," Bush said. Vice President Dick Cheney spoke about the same issue in a speech on Wednesday.

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.

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