House Democrats propose new surveillance legislation

House Democrats propose new surveillance legislation

[JURIST] Democrats in the US House of Representatives introduced a draft bill [PDF text; summary, PDF] Tuesday designed to "modernize" the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The so-called RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") would increase court oversight of the Terrorist Surveillance Program [DOJ fact sheet; JURIST news archive] run by the National Security Agency. The bill, introduced by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), would replace the Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials; RESTORE vs. PAA comparison, PDF], which was passed [JURIST report] by Congress in August as a temporary FISA update.

According to a statement [text] from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the bill "crafts a careful balance between security and freedom and it makes clear that FISA is the law of the land." Nadler outlined several key provisions of the proposal:

the Conyers-Reyes bill reinforces the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in regards to electronic surveillance programs, clarifies that foreign to foreign communications do not require court approval, and requires that FISA warrants are required when targeting domestic communications.

The bill also requires periodic audits of surveillance activities by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. Additionally, the bill provides resources for the National Security Agency and the Justice Department for the purposes of processing FISA applications and other submissions to the FISA court in a timely and efficient manner, and to comply with the audit, reporting and record keeping requirements.

Also, in a key victory for civil liberties, the bill does not include immunity for telecommunications companies that may have broken the law when they participated in the President's warrantless wiretapping program.

Hoyer indicated Tuesday that Democrats may be willing to compromise on the immunity issue [AP report], noting that immunity for telecommunications companies would likely be insisted upon by the administration before President George W. Bush would sign any legislation. The Hill has more.