Mr McConnell has it wrong (Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecoms, New York Times, December 16, 2007: A1, A30). Nobody wants to hobble the ability of the U.S. to identify terrorists. I do want the U.S. to use its anti-terrorist tools in a legal manner.
There always has been sufficiently strong legislation to allow the spy agencies to do their work as long as they did so in a proper manner. Doing the job properly meant subjecting their requests for surveillance to the FISA court for approval -- it was even possible to obtain ex-post approval so that agencies were not constrained from following up their suspicions in a timely manner. It is here that the agencies fell down by failing to submit their requests to court oversight.
The legislation under discussion must restore the checks and balances that are needed to maintain a democratic society.
As far as the Telecoms are concerned, I find that all retroactive legislation is unwarranted -- whether it creates a crime or absolves actors of a crime. After all, Qwest refused to honor the government's overly broad request -- the other could and should have done likewise. To allow them to escape the consequences of their illegal actions would be wrong.
Sent to New York Times