Current law requires court review of government surveillance of suspected terrorists in the United States, but doesn't specifically address the government's ability to intercept messages believed to come from foreigners overseas. However, a recent ruling by a FISA court barred the government from eavesdropping on foreign suspects whose messages were being routed through U.S. communications carriers. Democrats initially demanded FISA court review to begin immediately and conclude within a month of the surveillance starting to make sure that Americans aren't targeted, but the bill that passed gives initial approval of eavesdropping by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (the administration actually had the audacity to ask for this authority exclusively for Gonzo, but Democrats at least didn't go along with that) with FISA review only needing to happen within four months, providing little more than weak and practically nonexistent court review to the surveillance.
The only silver lining is that the new authority last for only six months and then will have to be revisited by the Congress. But if Democrats were so easily pressured into approving exactly what a deeply unpopular president and party, what will stop them from doing so in six months? It is almost as if Democrats believe themselves in the meme that they are weak on terrorism if they block whatever Republicans want to do. The so-called emergency for passing this legislation is complete BS, and Democrats know it:
...Democratic lawmakers have been deeply suspicious that the Bush administration was seeking a broader and more controversial expansion of surveillance authority by making changes that were vague on important issues. Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday that the administration-supported bill would allow wiretapping without warrants as long as it was “concerning a person abroad.” As a result, he said, the law could be construed as allowing any search inside the United States as long as the government claimed it “concerned” Al Qaeda.But they gave Bush what he wanted because they again allowed themselves to be pressured into it out of fear of the charges that Republicans will throw at them. Charges of being "weak" that Republicans have and will throw at them anyway, no matter what. This is so much like the war debate it is ridiculous, and again, Democrats in Congress disappoint.
Democrats said their suspicions had been fueled in part by the White House’s repeated reluctance to ask Congress for technical changes addressing issues that should have been apparent long ago.
In a recent letter to a Republican on the committee, Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, Mr. Reyes noted that Congress had updated the FISA law eight times since the Sept. 11 attacks.
“You repeatedly claim that FISA is woefully outdated,” Mr. Reyes wrote. “Neither you nor the administration raised concerns during consideration of those bills that the statutory changes proposed were inadequate.”
UPDATE: Speaker Pelosi asks Conyers and Reyes to offer legislation to amend FISA as soon as the Congress reconvenes, citing the need for corrective action "as soon as possible."