“We must not turn the Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson
In his State of the Union address next week, it is imperative that President Bush push for the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Setting aside foolish partisan politics and ad hominem arguments, FISA is necessary for the national security of America and the safety of Americans.
FISA is the law that governs gathering foreign intelligence information. Last year, when the CIA and intelligence community announced there were gaping holes in our ability to track overseas terrorists, Congress acceded to the president’s call for immediate action to fix and update the law.
Over 90% of global Internet traffic, and countless phone calls from one foreign country, say, Iran, to another foreign country, say, Afghanistan, pass through America. The question becomes whether our government can monitor such calls that involve suspected terrorists without first filling out the paperwork for a warrant. The fix did that.
But Congress only gave the fix a shelf life of several months, so it would have more time to debate the issue and revisit it later. That statutory fix is about to expire, and Congress must do something about it. The president should call for FISA reauthorization in his State of the Union, and demand that Congress swiftly comply with it.
The bill accounts for new technologies such as cell phones and the Internet that were not around in 1978. Technology changes rapidly, and this law permits our Intelligence Community to respond rapidly when our agents are trying to track movements and communications of suspected terrorists.
The fundamental divide here is war versus law enforcement. Some refuse to acknowledge there is a divide, while others understand that they are two different government functions.
Some look at the idea of a war against a global network of terrorists as merely law enforcement. This view consists of catching the “bad guys” after they do something bad, giving them a court trial with due process, and an American lawyer paid with taxpayer dollars, and American prison care when convicted. Others understand that a war is a conflict between two powers with different beliefs and ideologies, and that lives are lost — and sometimes nations are destroyed — by not devoting the necessary resources to defeating a wartime enemy.