In the wake of recent NSA surveillance revelations, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants her members to be on the same page when they talk to the public about the underlying law, and Democrats’ role in crafting it. But whatever concerns remain, she wants them to emphasize that Congress under her leadership improved the status quo ante by restraining President Bush’s far-reaching surveillance program and providing a legal basis for NSA collection programs, including ones disclosed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
In a memo sent to her members Tuesday and obtained by TPM, Pelosi stresses the improvements to national security law made since the Bush administration. “Striking the right balance has been a long-standing priority for Democrats,” the memo says. “In fact, Democrats insisted upon the protections in current law related to the government’s collection of information pursuant to the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
In a side-by-side chart accompanying the talking points, Pelosi compares the justifications for and extent of President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program; a temporary 2007 law called the Protect America Act, and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which made some of the PAA permanent, and serves as the current legal basis for some of the NSA’s current operations.“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.