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US intelligence chief circulates proposed FISA amendments

[JURIST] John M. "Mike" McConnell [official profile], who succeeded John Negroponte as US Director of National Intelligence in February, is reportedly circulating proposed amendments to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text] to respond to FISA's perceived inflexibility and inability to respond to the threat of terrorism. The proposed amendments, released ahead of a Senate Intelligence Committee [official website] hearing on the issue scheduled for April 17, were foreshadowed by a speech delivered by McConnell [JURIST report] last week, where he noted that "the terrorists that came here and operated here prior to 9/11, so long as they were here legally and so long as they did not break the law, they were mostly invisible to us." AP is reporting that the proposed changes would include:

  • monitoring foreign nationals without approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder];
  • revising the standards of proof required for intelligence organizations to obtain phone call and email information through FISC court orders;
  • extending the validity of FISA surveillance warrants from 120 days to one year;
  • granting phone companies civil immunity from privacy invasion lawsuits related to their cooperation with governmental terrorist surveillance programs; and
  • extending from 72 hours to one week the time frame in which intelligence officers may conduct surveillance without a FISC court order in emergency situations.
In January, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that the DOJ has obtained [JURIST report] a FISC order that authorized government surveillance of transmissions coming into or going outside of the country where one party was suspected of association with a terrorist organization. AP has more.

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