Sunday, August 26, 2007

Transcript: Debate on the foreign intelligence surveillance act Transcript: Debate on the foreign intelligence surveillance act

Transcript of a question and answer session with National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell about FISA, the TSP, etc.

Reading the transcript shows the disconnect between those panicked about civil liberties and the reality of what the NSA is doing to combat terrorism. Some of the stuff that I noted here:

- The idea that the NSA coule reverse target Americans and stay within the recent amendment that used the word "directed" instead of "targeted" seems far fetched. That isn't how the NSA operates here. Rather, they target telephone numbers and record stuff coming and going from them. If the targeted number is here in the U.S., a warrant is required.

- The long term problem that precipitated this was that back when FISA was passed into law, most international communications were through the air, interception of such was not deeded to be w/i the U.S., and thus, the more lenient 50 U.S.C. 1801(f)(1) applied. But now most communications are via fiber optics that need to be intercepted at the switches on U.S. soil, and thus, interception moved to 1801(f)(2). Under (f)(1), FISA didn't apply if the target was foreign or the person here was here illegally. Both of those disappear in (f)(2).

- The other thing that changed was that when a second FISC judge looked at the program, it appears that he determined that when there was a mere possibility that one end of a conversation might be in the U.S., and it was tapped at one of those fiber switches in the U.S., FISA was triggered. The problem is that sometimes they don't know the location of both ends of a conversation - notably with satellite calls.

- Finally, as the AG has repeatedly stated, the problem is the paperwork involved - 200 hours per warrant. That is fine for situations where one party is known to be in the U.S. But that is a fraction of the relevant calls, and that FISC judge's ruling was causing a 10x increase in the warrants required - all at the 200 hours per warrant cost.

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