Legislation to whitewash President Bush’s spying programs has moved another step closer to passage, as three of the Republican holdouts accepted a “compromise” that EFF’s Derek Slater says will still undermine civil liberties.
The most objectionable thing about the Specter bill, from my perspective, was the fact that it would have made FISA review optional for spying programs. So even if the Bush administration promises to get a warrant for this program, that still would have set a bad precedent for future administrations, who may opt not to get a warrant with Congress’s imprimatur. The Post article suggests that that language has been strengthened a little bit, but not very much:
According to the lawmakers, a second major change would clarify that a decision by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court upholding the warrantless surveillance program’s legality would not give blanket authorization for the president to pursue wiretaps without court approval.
It’s not clear to me what this means, but it certainly doesn’t sound like what’s needed–a clear statement from Congress that surveillance of Americans without a court order is illegal. And given the sorry track record of recent moderate Republican “compromises” over civil liberties issues, color me skeptical that this one is any better.