"Congressional Democrats were able to include significant privacy and civil liberties protections that enhanced accountability, transparency and checks on government collection activities in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008," the memo says.
The improvements have not generally been significant enough for privacy and civil liberties advocates, though.
"There's no question that the FISA Amendments Act is better than a program of unconstitutional domestic surveillance based solely on executive authority," said Mark Rumold, a lawyer and privacy expert at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But is less illegal the standard we have to be resigned to? The answer, obviously, is no: the American public needs to be informed about how these authorities are implemented and how our rights are affected under these authorities. For example, we know that the FISC [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] has held that surveillance conducted under the FISA Amendments Act has violated the Fourth Amendment. Yet there's been no discussion of that in any of the administration's public statements. Once the administration comes clean about its spying program, then the public can have an informed debate about the propriety of these laws and any appropriate reforms. Saying 'the FAA is better than unquestionably illegal' just isn't enough."
You can read the whole side-by-side chart below.
This article has been updated.