A Belated FISA Amendment Act Reauthorization Act Update

"As readers probably already know, the Senate ended an otherwise largely legislation-light 2012 by approving a controversial five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), which the House had previously passed in September. President Obama signed the reauthorization into law on January 4th. The legislative debate that led up to the bill had lots of talk of reform and amendment. But at the end of the day—or, rather, the end of the year—the new FAA looks almost exactly like the old. For those who missed the details amidst the holidays, here’s an update.

Broadly speaking, the original FAA had created procedures for electronic surveillance of both U.S. and non-U.S. persons believed to be located outside the United States. Back in October, Zachary Eddington summarized the hot-button sections of the original law, with respect to lawful surveillance targets, §§ 702–704. And there was a lot of talk of possibly amending those sections. But in its entirety, the final one-page extension bill amends the FAA only “by striking ‘December 31, 2012’ and inserting ‘December 31, 2017’” in two paragraphs and with a conforming section heading. In other words, it’s an extension—and a very clean one at that.

The decision to pass an extension without further substantive amendments to the FAA was neither a foregone conclusion nor was it without controversy. Indeed, the debate surrounding the extension offers a window into Intelligence Committee strife over the appropriate level of oversight and public disclosure surrounding the FAA".