Wash. Times op-ed falsely suggested PAA expiration would forbid U.S. to "monitor communications for counter-terror purposes"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

In a Washington Times op-ed, Discovery Institute senior fellow John Wohlstetter falsely suggested that if the August 2007 Protect America Act (PAA) expires on February 1 as scheduled, the government will not be "allow[ed] ... to continue to monitor communications for counter-terror purposes." In fact, the government would retain the authority to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists after the PAA expires; only the PAA's revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would expire.

In a January 31 Washington Times op-ed, Discovery Institute senior fellow John Wohlstetter falsely suggested that if the August 2007 Protect America Act (PAA) expires on February 1 as scheduled, the government will not be "allow[ed] ... to continue to monitor communications for counter-terror purposes." Specifically, he wrote: "Late last year the Senate put off reauthorizing the Protect America Act, enacted last August for a six-month term that expires tomorrow, that would allow the government to continue to monitor communications for counter-terror purposes." In fact, the government would retain the authority to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists after the PAA expires, as Media Matters for America has noted. Rather, what would expire are the PAA's revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. Before Congress amended FISA in August 2007, the government already had the authority to listen in on the communications of suspected terrorists, but it needed to obtain a court order to do so in most circumstances if the communications were 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. FISA does not apply to surveillance of communications that are intercepted outside the United States unless the surveillance is intentionally targeted at a particular, known, domestically located U.S. person.

According to the PAA's "transition procedures," if those revisions are allowed to 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.

After Media Matters documented that a January 28 Washington Post article erroneously reported that FISA itself -- and therefore the government's authority "to [s]py" -- would expire on February 1, the Post issued a correction. However, articles by The New York Times and the Associated Press that also falsely suggested the government's power to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects is set to expire remain uncorrected.

From Wohlstetter's January 31 Washington Times op-ed, headlined "Dial '08 for terrorism":

Late last year the Senate put off reauthorizing the Protect America Act, enacted last August for a six-month term that expires tomorrow, that would allow the government to continue to monitor communications for counter-terror purposes. A major sticking point is inability to agree on including immunity for telecommunications carriers from lawsuits arising out of their past cooperation with government requests to monitor traffic.

Already, some 40 civil lawsuits are pending. The House intends to pass a 30-day extension of the 2007 law, while the Senate debates extension length proposals. President Bush rightly insists on a permanent extension, which any future Congress can amend.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.