Today, the House of Representatives is in recess. And, yet, today marks a critical deadline for our national security infrastructure. Today, the Protect America Act expires, sending the Intelligence Community back to the technological Stone Age in trying to track the ever illusive and rapidly moving terrorist threats against our country. By refusing to update the current FISA regulations, Congress is subjecting the Intel Community to an antiquated law dating back to the 1970’s and which doesn’t take into account the technology we take for granted today.
Remember the 70’s? You probably didn’t have a laptop or cell phone, and it wasn’t because you couldn’t afford it; it was because they weren’t available. In the 70’s, “disposable” cell phones were not even envisioned by most Americans and the ability to sit in a coffee shop and communicate on the Internet through a wireless modem was, for most Americans, akin to landing on the moon – something the government might do with Herculean effort, but certainly not for the common man.
The reality, however, is that such technologies are now commonplace and available to everyone around the world. In fact, the availability of cheap, disposable cell phones, the growth of the internet, and the emergence of a rapid and complex global telecommunications infrastructure that can phone calls anywhere in the world has allowed a level of anonymity that terrorists have quickly learned to exploit to mask their plans and operations. This is the context in which the debate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) must be conducted.
Put simply, what was good in the 70’s is not good enough today when it comes to our national security. In my experience, when you get away from the lobbyists and the lawyers, the American people expect an Intelligence Community that is armed with the tools to operate effectively within today’s and tomorrow’s environment…not one that is 30 years old!
The Senate finally took the step to pass a bill making needed changes to the FISA permanent, including retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that are being subjected to lawsuits from civil liberty groups for supposedly cooperating with the government in protecting our nation against terrorists. This was not an easy vote for some Senators in this politically charged presidential election year. In fact, one of the leading candidates abstained from the vote.
And, right now, the House of Representatives chambers are silent after Democrats decided to leave Washington for a week’s recess. This abdication of responsibility is appalling in light of the threats that do not take recess in their efforts against the United States and its interest.