If the Law Expires

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Protect America Act (PAA), approved last August, expanded the government's ability to monitor the communications of terrorism suspects without obtaining court warrants. The law is set to expire at the end of the day tomorrow unless Congress renews it. Here is what could happen if the law expired:

¿ The government would retain all the powers it had before last August under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires the government to obtain court approval for surveillance conducted on U.S. soil or against U.S. targets.

¿ Classified orders allowing the monitoring of international telephone calls, e-mail traffic and other communications under the Protect America Act routinely are valid for a year, so they would not expire before August.

¿ Those orders cover terrorist groups or telecommunication providers in their entirety, according to government officials and lawmakers. New groups, phone numbers and other information could be added to existing orders, Democratic lawmakers say.

¿ If a targeted person uses a telecommunication company not covered by such an order, the administration says the government may have to obtain a new order from the FISA court. The administration views this as a cumbersome process; Democrats say obtaining emergency FISA approval is straightforward.

¿ Administration officials say that without the PAA, they may have to seek FISA court approval to monitor communications between foreigners that pass through U.S. switches. Democrats counter that such communications are covered by existing directives.

¿ The White House also asserts that telecommunication companies would be less likely to help the government without the special legal protections in the PAA.

SOURCES: Justice Department, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Congress

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