Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reaffirming that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is the sole source of legal authority for domestic wiretaps aimed at catching international spies or terrorists. It was a welcome rebuke to the Bush administration, which perceives additional sources of authority in the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force and the president's inherent powers. Still, it's doubtful that adding "and we mean it!" to laws that Bush thinks he has the constitutional authority to override will have much of a restraining effect.
Worse, the same panel also approved a plan by Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the committee's chairman, to authorize surveillance even broader than what the Bush administration has acknowledged conducting, with little or no judicial oversight. Among other things, Specter's bill would repeal the provision that identifies the Wiretap Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as "the exclusive means" by which the monitoring of communications involving people in the U.S. "may be conducted"–the same provision Feinstein's bill would reaffirm. Specter and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) somehow managed to vote for both bills, which presumably would obliterate each other if enacted into law. The resulting statutory explosion could take with it what's left of Congress' claim to regulate snooping conducted in the name of national security.