WASHINGTON – The Justice Department would have to reveal to Congress the details of all electronic surveillance conducted without court orders since Sept. 11, 2001, including the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program, if a new Democratic wiretapping bill is approved.
The draft bill, scheduled to be introduced to Congress Tuesday, would also require the Justice Department to maintain a database of all Americans subjected to government eavesdropping without a court order, including whether their names have been revealed to other government agencies.
The Bush administration has refused to share that information with Congress so far.
The Terrorist Surveillance Program was a secret eavesdropping program undertaken after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks without the approval of an intelligence court created 30 years ago to monitor such programs.
The Democratic legislation is certain to draw sharp objections and possibly a veto threat because it lacks at least one feature the White House demands: it does not grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with government surveillance between 2001 and 2007 without the court orders. Around 40 lawsuits name telecommunications companies for alleged violations of wiretapping laws, according to administration officials.
The measures are included in a rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to be proposed by Democratic leadership on Tuesday. The bill would replace the Protect America Act of 2007, the controversial FISA revision adopted by Congress in August. That bill was hastily adopted under pressure from the Bush administration, which said changes in technology had resulted in dire gaps in its authority to eavesdrop on terrorists.
Privacy and civil liberties advocates voiced strong concerns in the weeks after the law was signed, saying it gave the government far more power to eavesdrop on American communications without court oversight than was initially understood.
The "Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007" — or RESTORE Act — would clarify that no court orders are required for the government to conduct surveillance on communications outside the United States even when the surveillance is conducted on U.S. soil, provided the target of the eavesdropping is not known to be a U.S. person.
The bill allows the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to request an "umbrella warrant" to conduct surveillance of foreign targets, or groups of targets, for up to one year when there is a possibility that American communications may be intercepted.
The RESTORE Act would expire in December 31, 2009.