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Critics say compromise bill is anything but

The U.S. House of Representatives quickly passed the FISA Amendments Act yesterday, which if made into law would expand the government's surveillance abilities and grant retroactive immunity to telecoms for their role in post-9/11 mass domestic wiretapping.

The Act, known more formally as H.R. 6304 and born after months of negotiations, represents a “bipartisan compromise” over similar legislation that died on the House floor last February.

Much of the negotiations revolved around the thorny issue of “telecom immunity,” which if included would kill the 40+ lawsuits currently in progress accusing communications providers of assisting the Bush Administration in an illegal, post-9/11 surveillance program. As the bill currently stands, a court review will determine if providers received a presidential order requesting the wiretaps – regardless of whether or not the correct warrants were filed – and then drop all pending litigation if that condition was met.

The “warrantless wiretapping” program, initiated by the Bush Administration in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, ran for almost six years until it was discovered by the New York Times.

With time running out on the country’s surveillance laws – current versions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs the nation’s surveillance activities, are set to expire in August – Congress has little time to negotiate. The Bush Administration previously took a hard-line stance against FISA updates that failed to include a provision for telecom immunity, although it was reported earlier this year that the White House decided to relax its stance.

The FISA Amendments Act “balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans' civil liberties, and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

“The House of Representatives today has fallen down on the job,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Hugh D’Andrade. “By passing the FISA Amendments Act … [the House] voted to give this lame duck President an undeserved parting gift by passing immunity for telecoms that helped the President violate the Constitution by participating in the NSA's massive and illegal spying program.”

“Immunity for telecom giants that secretly assisted in the NSA's warrantless surveillance undermines the rule of law and the privacy of every American,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “We are deeply disappointed that the House Leadership, which was so courageous in its previous opposition to telecom immunity, caved to the Administration's fear-mongering and put this seriously flawed legislation on the floor for a vote.”

In addition to the aforementioned telecom immunity provisions, the FISA Amendments Bill would:

  • Allow the government to conduct emergency eavesdropping without court approval for up to a week.
  • Allow secret FISA courts to review expiring surveillance orders for up to 30 days before renewing them.
  • Prohibit the government from superseding surveillance rules, even if it invokes war powers.
  • Require court permission to wiretap Americans overseas.
  • Obscure out American citizens’ names when wiretapping conversations between an American citizen and a foreigner.

H.R. 6304 passed the House 239-129, and is slated for the Senate as early as June 23.

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RE: Who follows the Constitution Anyways?
By masher2 on 6/22/2008 12:54:36 PM , Rating: 2
> "Lets say that when people need to resort to extremist arguments like this, that they in fact, HAVE no argument"

But, Reclaimer, many governments have existed which allowed its elite to do essentially anything they wished, including rape and murder ordinary citizens with no fear of recourse.

Now, one must ask oneself why such has never happened here in the USA. Do you believe we're genetically superior to the rest of the human race? If not, you have to accept that certain social ethics exist which prevent the government from gaining that much power.

From that, a wise person arrives at the attitude of the previous poster. Allowing the government to restrict certain rights is a slippery slope that ultimately slides down to despotism and oppression.

RE: Who follows the Constitution Anyways?
By EricMartello on 6/22/2008 11:29:07 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, I can say with a high degree of certainty that there are many "elites" who live above the law. I have no doubt that there are people here in the USA who can get away with things that would normally mean a jail sentence for the "common man".

Even though times have changed since our forefathers created the Constitution, the underlying principles of the Constitution are still applicable today. I don't think that the people standing by, allowing terrorism or whatever the "flavor of the day" threat is, is a valid basis for altering the foundation of what the USA was built upon.

You got laws like the DMCA, the ISPs blocking Usenet access, law enforcement being allowed to operate 'outside the law' and beyond established protocols...sign of the times. These things should not be taken lightly, yet to many of us, it's just another headline to read and forget about in a week or two.

By nstott on 6/23/2008 8:58:47 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, I can say with a high degree of certainty that there are many "elites" who live above the law. I have no doubt that there are people here in the USA who can get away with things that would normally mean a jail sentence for the "common man".

Especially if your a Kennedy. Just ask Teddy (Don't ask Mary Jo Kopechne; she's not available for comment).

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller
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