The clock is ticking. Congress has less than a week to pass legislation to extend the important intelligence surveillance authorities of the Protect America Act before they expire.

President Bush declared “the time to act is now.” That was a reasonable request given that we know that terrorists are out their plotting to kill us and intelligence collection and surveillance have helped us stop them. By our count, at least 19 “publicly” known terrorist conspiracies have been thwarted. Doubtless classified operations have stopped others as well.

That said, it is pretty remarkable that more than half the Congress sat on its hands rather than applauding the President’s call to action.

As Heritage scholars noted in “The Intelligence Community Needs Clear—and Permanent—FISA Reform,” the right thing for Congress to do is:

  • Retain provisions of The Protect America Act that wisely extended prospective immunity to communications providers that have worked with U.S. intelligence services to facilitate intelligence gathering for national security. With 40 or more civil lawsuits already filed against these providers for their cooperation, Congress should take the logical, fair step and provide retroactive immunity as well.
  • Make the Protect America Act permanent and enhance its provisions to provide retroactive and permanent liability protection to American businesses that cooperate with reasonable intelligence requests. To do otherwise looks like political gamesmanship—and the stakes are too high to play games with national security.