PAA Sunset Likely

Yesterday House Republicans blocked a 21 day extension to the Protect America Act. The law is scheduled to sunset this Friday, after having previously received a 15 day extension at the end of January. Don’t worry – the PAA sunset won’t have any impact on the government’s ability to collect intelligence on terrorist threats. Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times reports:

The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.

This echoes the the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday:

On Friday, a surveillance law insisted upon by the President last August will expire. Today, an overwhelming majority of House Democrats voted to extend that law for three weeks so that agreement could be reached with the Senate on a better version of that law. The President and House Republicans refused to support the extension and therefore will bear the responsibility should any adverse national consequences result.

However, even if the Protect America Act expires later this week, the American people can be confident that our country remains safe and strong. Every order entered under the law can remain in effect for 12 months from the date it was issued.

Furthermore, the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for the surveillance of terrorists and provides that in emergencies surveillance can begin without warrant, remains intact and available to our intelligence agencies. Unlike last August, the FISA court has no backlog of cases, and thus can issue necessary court orders for surveillance immediately.

From a practical standpoint, what this means is that the sunset of the PAA should not create an environment where Democrats are negotiating under political duress.

It seems like the House Democratic leadership, notably Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Intelligence Committee chair Silvestre Reyes are all standing firm on passing good legislation. They’ve been vocal in opposition to the Republican talking points. From the Lichtblau piece:

The expiration of the powers “doesn’t mean we are somehow vulnerable again,” said Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

“The president’s presentation this morning was, I think, basically dishonest,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader.

This is good. Hopefully these statements by Pelosi, Hoyer, and Reyes are a sign of things to come from the House in the conference committee report. As of now, the membership of the conference committee has not been set and some procedural steps would have to take place before they begin working out the differences between House and Senate version of FISA legislation.

Cross posted at the CREDO Blog.

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