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Spy chief: Rework surveillance law

AP | April 12, 2007
KATHERINE SHRADER

WASHINGTON - National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said Wednesday that a landmark surveillance law needs to be updated to accommodate advances in technology.

McConnell is circulating draft legislation that civil-liberties advocates say would make significant changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That law allows surveillance in espionage and other foreign intelligence investigations if approved by a special secretive court.

"The technology framework of the 1970s and today are vastly different," McConnell said. "What we are attempting to do is to make what we do relevant in today's technology base. It has changed so dramatically.

"As a citizen, I care as much or more about privacy and the rights of citizens as anyone at the table, and I am passionate about protecting that privacy," he added.

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Citing the need for secrecy, he said he could not provide specific examples of problems with the FISA law experienced by the FBI or National Security Agency - two agencies that often use its powers.

McConnell plans to discuss the issue further at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing next week.

The 1978 law has been updated several times to give the government new powers in foreign intelligence investigations. A 1994 update allowed physical searches and a 2001 update allowed access to certain business records.

Officials said McConnell's plan would give the NSA the power to monitor foreigners without seeking court approval, even if the surveillance is conducted by tapping phones and e-mail accounts in the United States.

The plan also would triple the life span of an FISA warrant targeting a non-U.S. citizen from 120 days to one year, allowing the government to monitor much longer without checking back with a judge.

McConnell, who took over as spy chief in February, made the comments to reporters as he released a 100-day plan for the 16 spy agencies and 100,000 employees he oversees.

Items on his agenda range from ensuring that his authorities are adequate to forging closer relationships with foreign intelligence agencies.

McConnell would not disclose which countries or regions he wants U.S. spy agencies to develop closer ties with. "It's global," he said. A librarian's

response

A librarian who fended off an FBI demand for computer records on patrons said Wednesday the government's secret anti-terrorism investigations strip away personal freedoms.

"Terrorists win when the fear of them induces us to destroy the rights that make us free," said George Christian, executive director of Library Connection Inc., a consortium of 27 libraries in the Hartford, Conn., area that share an automated library system.

In prepared testimony for a Senate panel, Christian said his experience "should raise a big patriotic American flag of caution" about the strain that the government's pursuit of would-be terrorists puts on civil liberties.

The government uses the Patriot Act and other laws to learn, without proper judicial oversight or any after-the-fact review, what citizens are researching in libraries, Christian said.

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