Curtail unwarranted spying on public

Congress is on the verge of making a bad deal to expand the executive's power to conduct electronic spying and slam the door shut on efforts to find out how and why the government misled lawmakers and the public about the extent of its ambitious program to spy without court order.

Passed by a vote of 293-129 in the House, the overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is billed as a ”compromise.“ It is nothing of the sort. Lawmakers are caving in on the most significant aspect of the law and practically committing the next president to accept it.

Recall that the administration kept the extent of its warrantless spying program secret for years. Thanks to reports in the news media in late 2005, Americans learned that most of the nation's telecommunications companies had provided the government with private data beginning shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, without so much as a by-your-leave to the Congress, the courts or the people.

The secrecy-obsessed administration claimed that a 2001 law authorizing force against anyone involved in the 9/11 attacks gave the president that power. That was bad enough. But when the law came up for renewal the administration went further — insisting on a provision that would immunize the telecommunication companies from lawsuits.

This strikes at the heart of efforts to discover the extent of the lawless wiretapping. The lawsuits would be the only way to offer judicial review of the legality of the program. The Senate should not follow suit. It can extend the current law — minus the immunity — into next year, keeping the current program intact but leaving all options open for a new president who, we hope, will have a more protective view of civil liberties.

The Miami Herald.