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Obama Supports FISA Compromise

Last year, as Senate lawmakers were debating passage of the Protect America Act — which let the Bush administration skirt the courts in intercepting some domestic phone calls and emails and granted retroactive immunity to the telecoms — one of the most prominent opponents was Sen. Barack Obama (One of only 28 senators to vote against the bill last August).

Since then, of course, Obama has moved on to become the likely Democratic nominee for president, leaving civil libertarians to wonder how the Illinois senator would react to the House/Senate/White House spying bill that emerged yesterday and passed the House this morning.

This afternoon, they got their answer (and they’re not going to like it). From the statement:

Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance - making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses. But this compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies to determine what took place in the past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect America Act.

It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives — and the liberty — of the American people.

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