CRS on “The Protect America Act”

The controversial amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that were enacted under intense Administration pressure earlier this month are reviewed section-by-section in a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

The legislation, dubbed the “Protect America Act of 2007,” removed legal impediments to the interception of foreign communications that pass through the United States. But it also redefined the terms of the FISA so as to permit increased surveillance of communications involving persons in the United States while curtailing judicial supervision.

The new CRS report offers a careful reading of each provision of the Act.

But instead of fully clarifying its impact, the report serves to highlight just how unclear and indeterminate the new law actually is.

Thus, one provision “could conceivably be interpreted” to apply to parties within the United States. Another provision “might be seen to be susceptible of two possible interpretations.” Still others “appear to” or “would seem to” or “may also” have one uncertain consequence or another.

In other words, the new law bears the hallmarks of its hasty, poorly considered origins.

The new CRS report may help to identify some of the questions that Congress will examine when it revisits the legislation next month.

A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “P.L. 110-55, the Protect America Act of 2007: Modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” August 23, 2007.