To the editor:
Sen. Pat Roberts and other Republicans have attempted to convert the disagreement over extension of the eavesdropping law into an opportunity to impugn the patriotism of the Democratic House leadership that opposes the extension. This supposition clearly misses the point of the opposition.
The sticking point is Bush administration's insistence that the telecom companies, which assisted in the eavesdropping after the attacks 9/11, be provided with blanket retrospective immunity. This eavesdropping was illegal at that time. FISA was passed by Congress not to prevent the acquisition of intelligence data, but to provide judicial oversight of the process. This oversight was intended to prevent intelligence agencies from spying on American citizens for political reasons. This abuse had occurred in the past.
Thus the real issue in this debate is the expansion of power by the executive branch. The Bush administration, as well as the telecom companies, were aware they were ignoring the provisions of FISA, yet they unilaterally chose to proceed. This sets a dangerous precedent. The executive branch should not be allowed to ignore laws passed by Congress when it seems expedient, then ask for immunity later.
Democrats are not attempting to prevent the gathering of intelligence. Both parties want to keep the country safe. FISA may need modification, and a bipartisan agreement would be in everyone's best interests. However, there are major constitutional issues at stake. If a new FISA is passed, will the administration ignore it when it seems expedient?