Both presumptive presidential nominees reacted today to US House approval of a compromise bill setting new electronic surveillance rules for the war on terror and trying to balance privacy rights with national security/
The Senate is expected to go along with the update to the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and President Bush also supports it. The bill effectively shields telecommunications companies from lawsuits arising from the government's warrantless eavesdropping on phone and computer lines as part of the war on terror.
Republican John McCain's statement: "For months, House Democrats, the ACLU, and the trial lawyers have held up legislation to modernize our nation's terrorist surveillance laws. Today, the House passed a compromise bill to end this impasse. While I would have preferred to see the Senate bill enacted, which I voted for earlier this year, I am pleased Congressional leaders and the Administration were able to reach an agreement to reform our current surveillance law and not let FISA expire in August. I hope Senate Democrats will allow this matter to quickly be considered by the Senate and sent to the President for his signature. I will support this measure and hope that politics will be put aside in favor of this vital national security matter."
Democrat Barack Obama's statement: “Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.
“That is why last year I opposed the so-called Protect America Act, which expanded the surveillance powers of the government without sufficient independent oversight to protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans. I have also opposed the granting of retroactive immunity to those who were allegedly complicit in acts of illegal spying in the past.
“After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act.
“Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses. But this compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies to determine what took place in the past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect America Act.
“It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.