Friday, October 05, 2007

Congressman Jim Matheson: responding to your email

Jim Matheson, Working for Utah's Second District
October 5, 2007

Dear Ms. Fowler,

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the temporary reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). I appreciate your interest in the issues facing our country and state, and I am glad for the opportunity to respond to your inquiry.

In the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress specifically proposed changing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 in order to make it easier to obtain warrants to conduct wiretapping and surveillance. There is no question that if conversations are taking place between terrorists, we want to know about the content of those phone calls in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration opposed those changes at the time, which was a mistake. The proper course of action is to ensure that Congress establishes good laws that safeguard American lives and civil liberties.

Congress recently adopted legislation that temporarily extends updated FISA legislation for six months. The legislation permits the U.S. Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to authorize the collection of foreign intelligence about individuals reasonably believed to be outside the United States. Although this legislation does not require that the foreign intelligence court established under FISA authorize warrants, it does require the Justice Department to share information regarding its methods with the FISA court for the court's review. Finally, the legislation also requires semi-annual reports be made to the appropriate Congressional committees regarding intelligence gathering operations conducted under the authority of this legislation. I voted for this legislation, which passed the U.S. House by a vote of 227-183, and was signed into law by the President in August 2007.

However, I believe that Congress mistakenly delayed the process of formally reviewing FISA. Had Congress held more oversight hearings and done more in terms of exploring the weaknesses and strengths of the 2001 legislation, I believe that we would have enacted a more sensible long-term law, instead of this patchwork approach. Fortunately, a more deliberative process is currently underway, and it is my hope that a reasonable FISA reauthorization bill will be enacted sometime this year.

Again, thank you for sharing your concerns with me. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact my office.


Member of Congress

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