Feeds

Bush to Congress: streamline star-chamber spy court

I've already tried ignoring it

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

President George Bush has urged Congress to approve modifications to American laws governing surveillance and wiretapping.

In his Saturday speech to the nation, the President said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was out of date, and that it hampered US terror-busting spooks unduly. Under FISA, when feds or spies want to monitor communications in America they must obtain a secret warrant from the special star-chamber-esque FIS court.

In the wake of 9/11, President Bush secretly adopted the position that, in fact, he could order surveillance against Americans without approval from the FIS court, and did so. The National Security Agency (NSA) embarked on a massive automated data-mining'n'wiretapping programme targeted at communications between people in the USA and those overseas. This involved extensive cooperation from American comms providers.

The president's argument at that time was that his orders were legal, and he was allowed to circumvent FISA. It was also argued that FIS court supervision was too time-consuming and cumbersome, and was preventing the US spook community from defending America against terrorists.

The judge who presided over the FIS court at the time of 9/11 has since strongly refuted this, claiming that nobody could have been more keen to authorise wiretapping and surveillance than him. Indeed, he has said that he approved several surveillance operations by cellphone while stuck in traffic.

Assertions that the NSA's White House authorised US spying programmes were completely legal have not been fully tested, as the administration put the spooks back under FIS control after the matter became public.

It would appear that President Bush has come to accept that he hasn't the power to ignore FISA, as he now proposes to amend it.

"This week," he said on Saturday, "I visited with troops at Charleston Air Force Base. These fine men and women are serving courageously to protect our country against dangerous enemies. The terrorist network that struck America on September 11 wants to strike our country again."

But, in fact, the President wasn't on about some kind of deadly airborne attack against South Carolina, which could lift the fighting airpeople of Charleston AFB into the same courageousness bracket as grunts patrolling Baghdad or Anbar. He went on:

"To stop [the terrorists] our military, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals need the best possible information ... One of the most important ways we can gather that information is by monitoring terrorist communications... Today we face sophisticated terrorists who use disposable cell phones and the internet... technologies like these were not available when FISA was passed nearly 30 years ago... our nation is hampered in its ability to gain the vital intelligence we need to keep the American people safe."

It seems that Mike McConnell, US spy czar, told Congress in May that FISA meant his spooks were "significantly burdened in capturing overseas communications of foreign terrorists planning to conduct attacks inside the United States."

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
Vodafone to buy 140 Phones 4u stores from stricken retailer
887 jobs 'preserved' in the process, says administrator PwC
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.