NY Times article falsely suggested authority to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects expires on Feb. 1

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

A New York Times article falsely suggested that the legal authority "permitting intelligence officials to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects" would expire on February 1 unless Congress renews it. In fact, neither the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- the principal law "permitting intelligence officials to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects" -- nor the authority to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists will "expire" on February 1; rather, what are set to expire are the August 2007 revisions to FISA made through the Protect America Act.

In a January 29 article about President Bush's State of the Union speech, New York Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg falsely suggested that the legal authority "permitting intelligence officials to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects" would expire on February 1 unless Congress renews it. Stolberg reported that Bush "implored" Congress "to renew legislation permitting intelligence officials to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects" and that "the existing eavesdropping law ... is set to expire on Friday [February 1]." In fact, neither the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- the principal law "permitting intelligence officials to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects" -- nor the authority to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists will "expire" on February 1, as Media Matters for America has noted. Rather, what are set to expire are the August 2007 revisions to FISA made through the Protect America Act (PAA), which, among other things, expanded the government's powers to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. Before Congress amended FISA in August 2007, the government had the authority to listen in on the communications of suspected terrorists if, under most circumstances, it obtained a court order to eavesdrop on communications either intercepted in the United States or acquired by intentionally targeting the communications of a particular, known U.S. person who is in the United States.

According to the PAA's "transition procedures," after 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.

Similarly, a January 29 Washington Post editorial about the State of the Union speech stated that Bush "threatened to veto the temporary extension of a law authorizing surveillance of telephone calls and e-mails" without noting that, even without the extension, such surveillance would still be authorized.

From Stolberg's January 29 New York Times article headlined "Bush, Facing Woes in '08, Focuses on War and Taxes":

Looking ahead, on domestic affairs, Mr. Bush called on Congress to reauthorize his signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, and to pass pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. He asked lawmakers to make his tax cuts permanent, and implored them to renew legislation permitting intelligence officials to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects and to provide legal immunity to phone companies that have helped in the wiretapping efforts.

Yet even as Mr. Bush issued that call, lawmakers were at an impasse over the bill Monday night, as the Senate rejected two measures that would have forced votes on competing proposals -- a plan backed by the White House and a short-term effort by Democrats to extend by a month the existing eavesdropping law, which is set to expire on Friday.

From the January 29 Washington Post editorial titled "Final State":

It's possible that the economic relief will be the only significant legislative achievement this year. Mr. Bush urged Congress to show "that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time." But it was hardly a sign of comity that he threatened to veto the temporary extension of a law authorizing surveillance of telephone calls and e-mails that the administration itself sought originally.

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