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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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By nstott on 6/23/2008 8:34:18 PM , Rating: 2
Ryanman: Lets say the Government passes a law allowing all of its employees to rape any person they choose.

I thought they already have that law; it's called the Bill Clinton Stress Relief Act, or "Clinton's Law." Just ask Juanita Broaddrick.

When Clinton was caught having FBI files collected on Republicans and other political enemies, the mantra was that it was a "bureaucratic snafu." Subject changed.

How about the democrats beloved Franklin D. Roosevelt? He authorized the interception of ALL communications traffic into and out of the United States the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Woodrow Wilson (D) did the same with communications between the US and Europe during World War I. During these times of war, a warrant wasn't required, so this isn't anything new. Furthermore, FDR and Wilson monitored all communications, even those of US citizens and without any probable cause.

In the modern case, only communications to and from foreigners in terrorism hotbeds and terror suspects in and out of the US are being monitored. Even if they conducted a fishing expedition against a US citizen and found evidence of a crime not related to terrorism, the evidence could not be used in court based on 4th Amendment protections. If not, then where are all of the cases of people caught in NSA fishing expedition drag nets? Where are the White House press releases of your phone sex? The government has always had the ability to tap your phone at any time long before all of this, but it doesn't mean that they do it.

The Bush Administration was applying the same laws that are used against organized crime in order to avoid missing critical information. The same time issue applies to terrorism even more so. Furthermore, the New York Times publishes classified information leaked from career bureaucrats in the government every other day, so there are security reasons involved with limiting the knowledge of what the NSA is doing and how they are doing it.

BTW, the term "illegal wiretap" is not correct. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the ACLU to overturn a 6th Circuit Court verdict that said the case was without merit since they could not show any evidence of substantial personal injury to the ACLU or any other plaintiffs in the case based on NSA wiretaps. The legality or illegality was not stated by the 6th Circuit, meaning that the wiretaps have yet to be determined illegal by the courts. Calling the wiretaps illegal is similar to guilty until proven innocent.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer
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