From the passage and enactment of the FISA in 1978, there had been development and advancement of technology. Albeit the law allowed surveillance, this was limited to wireless communication. Most foreign communications pass through ‘fiber optic cable’ although not included within the coverage of the FISA, was nevertheless tapped. This was allowed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) until March 2007 when it challenged its legality.
Finally in a case decided in May 2007, the court made a definitive ruling that the government must first secure a “warrant for surveillance whenever a fixed wire is involved” (Congresspedia web site, 2008). As a consequence, the FISC was clogged with requests for warrants and therefore a downturn of surveillance projects as well as delays. This was the main reason why the government pushed for the amendment of the FISA because delays and backlogs caused ‘intelligence gaps’ (Congresspedia web site, 2008).
The Legislature passed and enacted the Protect America Act (PAA) on August 3 and 4, 2007. It was signed into law by President Bush the following day but it only had a lifetime of 180 days. The Congress looked into the RESTORE Act which was supposed to make the amendments in the FISA permanent. Before the expiration of PAA, an extension for 15 days was approved but the second extension was voted down and thus, allowing the law to simply expire (Standler, 2008).
The most salient amendments of the FISA are: 1) “The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence are allowed to authorize acquisition of foreign intelligence information up to one year if the acquisition does not constitute electronic surveillance or acquisition involves obtaining foreign intelligence information from or with the assistance of communications service provider;” (Standler, 2008) 2) allowed the substitution of the National Security Agency (NSA) internal controls with that of the requisite warrant; (McElroy, 2007) 3) A notification to FISA Court within 72 hours in cases of warrantless surveillance; 4) allowance of domestic wiretapping on people in the U. S. as well those outside without any order or authority from the court; and 5) foreign wiretapping is allowed without a warrant to obtain information and foreign communications (McElroy, 2007) 3). Before the signing of the law in August 2007, there were many concessions made on both ends. The White House allowed the inclusion of the FISA Court oversight and several provisions of the proposal were deleted, one of which was the grant of exemption from liability of companies from lawsuits that assisted in surveillance (Warrick and Pincus, 2007).
However, due to the hasty passage of the bill by the Senate through the Republican sponsored bill, the law was enacted containing similar provisions as contained in the White House version. This meant that FISA Court does not have any oversight (Congresspedia web site, 2008). Strengths and Weaknesses of the Protect America Act of 2007 The need for a current and updated surveillance law is imperative considering the tragedy of 9/11. There really is no disagreement on the necessity of its existence. The uproar and confusion are hinged on the circumstances leading to the passage and the manner by which the provisions of the Protect America Act of 2007 are crafted.
One of the basic strengths of the PAA is the fact that it was drafted based upon the recommendations of the 9/11 in its Commission Report. The Report established that the terrorists had ease and freedom of movement including communications to carry out its plot, having a network of contacts in the many cities in the U. S. (9/11 Commission Report, 2003). Moreover, it explains that the intelligence community of government is so disintegrated, that no single agency or department has the comprehensive relevant information, more so a collation of both foreign and domestic intelligence information. It was for these reasons that FISA was sought to be amended and updated (9/11 Commission Report, 2003).