Washington, DC – Senator Jay Rockefeller and Senator Kit Bond, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today announced that the Senate Intelligence Committee passed legislation to modernize FISA. The bill, which passed by a strong bipartisan vote, will improve the recently enacted Protect America Act that aimed to fix collection problems related to foreign intelligence surveillance.
“Vice Chairman Bond and I worked very hard over the last few months to produce a bill that both sides could support. While neither side got everything we wanted, at the end of the day, we believe we’ve accomplished what we set out to do – allow for necessary intelligence collection while maintaining critical privacy protections for Americans,” Rockefeller said.
Vice Chairman Bond said, “I commend Chairman Rockefeller and the members of the Committee for all of their hard work and diplomacy in putting together this important bipartisan compromise. This bill protects American civil liberties while giving our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the tools and agility they need to intercept terrorist communications.”
“Through our legislation we have taken important steps to restore and expand critical FISA Court review of surveillance programs," Rockefeller said. “We also recognize that private companies who received legal assurances from the highest levels of government should not be dragged through the courts for their help with national security. The onus is on the Administration, not the companies, to ensure that the request is on strong legal footing, and if it is not, it is the Administration that should be held accountable.”
Bond added, “Unfortunately, the Committee adopted a problematic amendment today, which if not modified, will make it more difficult to vote our bill out of the Senate. I am hopeful, however, that we will be able to reach a compromise on this issue when we get to the floor. This bill is a delicate arrangement of compromises that were not easy to negotiate. If any further changes are made before this bill is signed into law, this deal will likely unravel and we will be back where we started. The stakes are too high to let that happen.”
The legislative agreement improves the Protect America Act in many important ways, namely by providing increased FISA court oversight. Additionally, the bill would provide targeted immunity for companies who acted in good faith to assist the government in preventing another terrorist attack based on a Presidential authorization and a determination that the activity was lawful.
Key features of the bill are:
- Authority for the intelligence community to conduct the intelligence collection needed to protect our country.
- Strong FISA Court review and approval of the procedures used to accomplish that collection.
- FISA Court review of the minimization procedures used to protect U.S. person information.
- Individual court review for targeting US persons overseas.
- Improved oversight by the FISA Court, the Congress, and the agencies’ Inspectors General.
- Targeted immunity for companies who assisted the government after the 9/11 attacks.
- A six-year sunset to allow Congress to evaluate how the new authorities in the legislation are being carried out.
FISA was carefully crafted in 1978 to balance the need to collect intelligence with the requirement to protect Americans’ civil liberties. It was drafted to deal specifically with the technology in use at the time. Over the last 30 years, the world has experienced a technology revolution, yet the FISA statute has not kept pace. This bill brings FISA up to date with today’s technology.