Is the Specter Bill a Good Idea As A Matter of Policy?:
I plan to respond to John Schmidt's constitutional defense of the Specter bill later today, but I wanted to address a question that Schmidt's defense curiously avoids: Is the Specter bill a good idea as a matter of policy?

  I haven't blogged on this question before, mostly because I find the question essentially impossible to answer. Almost no one knows what the facts of the NSA program are, what it does, and whether and how much it works, so I don't know how we're supposed to know whether it's a good idea for Congress to endorse it legislatively. It's like me telling you, "I'm thinking of a government program. Do you want to allow it or prohibit it?" Without knowing more, how are you supposed to answer that question? It's also hard to analyze the effect of the Specter bill's overhauling of the definitions of FISA without knowing how FISA investigations unfold; it's hard to measure the operational impact of a legislative change without knowing more about the operations. And how would Presidents use unregulated authority to conduct domestic wiretapping — what kinds of programs would they want to create that FISA currently blocks?

  Of course, you can always pick a view of the Specter bill based on fear. The more you fear Executive overreaching, the more you'll oppose it, and the more you fear an Al Qaeda attack, the more you'll support it. Or you can pick a view based on politics: if you support Bush, support the bill, and if you oppose Bush, oppose it. But if you want to assess the merits of the Specter bill in a more informed and substantive way, there doesn't seem to be much to go on.