Newly unveiled wiretap measure criticized from both sides
Liberals feel the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect personal liberties and conservatives say it is inadequate to meet the country’s urgent security needs.
The House Democratic bill on the administration's wiretapping powers was immediately criticized from the right and the left Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union blasted it for not requiring the administration to get individual warrants every time communications by a U.S. citizen are monitored.
"We would not tolerate allowing government agents to sit in our living rooms recording our personal conversations," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office. "We should not permit it simply because the government now has the capacity [to] monitor remotely and without our knowledge."
House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the bill "is just another example of how Democrats are unwilling to enact smart, bipartisan legislation that strengthens national security."
He added: "Rather than responding to the urgent needs of our intelligence community, Democrats are giving unprecedented constitutional protections to terrorists, spies and other enemies overseas."
The administration rejected the concept of basket warrants in August, but administration officials and key Republicans have since said the temporary bill passed in August should be made permanent. Notably, the bill does not shield telecommunications companies that may have helped the administration with spying activities from lawsuits.
Hoyer said he is not ruling out giving such immunity, but the White House has not provided Congress with requested documents on what the companies did.
"We understand that this will be a matter for further discussion," Hoyer said. "But to give immunity at this point in time would be a blind immunity."
The White House sent lawmakers a letter Friday saying it would "assemble" the requested documents by Oct. 22.
A top aide to one prominent liberal Democrat said that measure has the party's progressive base upset for not being more aggressive on protecting civil liberties.
Senior Democratic sources said after the Congressional Progressive Caucus released a set of restrictive principles for FISA overhaul last week, there were concerns in leadership about getting enough Democratic support for the bill.
"The bill that the progressives wanted would not get out of the House," said one senior Democratic aide. A point-by-point response from the Intelligence and Judiciary committees to the concerns of Caucus liberals has reportedly allayed some fears and is expected to ensure enough support for passage.
Aides point to the fact that liberal Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has come out in favor of the bill after being an outspoken critic of the temporary FISA bill. "We wanted the strongest bill that balances civil liberties and national security," the aide said. "We've made neither side happy so it's clearly a balanced bill."
The issue will soon fall to the Senate, where the Intelligence Committee is working on the bill. "The problem now is going to be dealing with whatever the Senate comes up with," said a senior Democratic leadership source.
Also Tuesday, White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend said FISA reform "is incredibly important when we look at our ability to have the tools we need to do the long-term job of protecting the country."