Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This FISA Bill Is Worth Fighting for...

Even if it's a last ditch effort!
FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A Bush-favored House bill, "the RESTORE Act" (H.R. 3773), attempts to fix the disastrous Protect America Act that was rushed through Congress in August, rubberstamping the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

But the bill caves in to Bush’s fear-mongering in a major way: it does NOT require the government to get an individual warrant before wiretapping Americans' phone calls and emails. Instead, it allows for program or basket “warrants,” which aren't really warrants at all. They're the modern-day equivalent of allowing government agents to sit in our living rooms, recording our personal conversations. Only they're more frightening, because the government now has the capacity to monitor us remotely and without our knowledge, and to save the information in a secret database forever.

One good thing is that the bill doesn't yet include immunity for telecom companies that broke the law by handing over Americans' private communications to the government, but we're hearing immunity could be added back to the bill at any time.

Thanks to Congressman Rush Holt, we have an alternative to Bush's insidious version which does not require individual warrants but only 'basket' warrants.

This is H.R.3782 is the FISA Modernization Bill. Although it was submitted to committee last monday (just like the restore act), it is still stuck in committee. This is the good bill because it has protections against basket warrants and doesn't grant retroactive immunity to Telecomms which were compliant to warrentless requests by the NSC, possibly going back to before 911.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office states:
Why is the president of the United States trying to get the telecommunications companies off the hook for their illegal activity? He is supposed to be upholding laws, not encouraging companies to break them. Businesses that break the law should be held accountable. We expect these companies to keep our personal information private, and if they break the law, there should be consequences – not a re-write of the rule book.

The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees wisely rejected the president’s efforts to carry the water for the telecom companies and voted down an amendment that would add telecom amnesty to the bill. Members of Congress should not re-write laws just to get giant companies off the hook. They were elected to represent the American people, not big business.

It is interesting that the president says his litmus test for acceptance of any bill to come from Congress hinges on the nod from Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, whose numerous exaggerations and misstatements have buoyed the ACLU and the Progressive Caucus’ efforts to get real civil liberties protections in any new FISA fixes.
Please, write your representative and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi right now. Tell them to only pass the FISA Modernization Bill that has individualized warrants for people in the United States and NOT to provide telecom companies with immunity for breaking the law.

The most effective calls to Congress are polite, respectful and clearly state what you’re asking your Member of Congress to do:
  • Congress should not act on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) until the Bush administration hands over documents about the NSA wiretapping program.
  • Any legislation to permanently amend FISA must restore judicial review and protect the privacy rights of innocent Americans.
  • The government should receive only the information it is authorized to intercept by law, it should not be given direct and unfettered access to telecommunications infrastructure.
  • The legislation must not grant amnesty to telecom companies that broke the law by illegally releasing Americans’ phone calls and records to the government.
Establish contact with your Congressional Representative by typing in your zipcode in the upper righthand corner of this site!

After the vote, check how your Senators and Congressmen voted and contact them with your raves or rage. It's the same old story: keep score, take names, and kick ass.


  1. Senator Dodd plans to put a hold on the FISA renewal bill designed to give telecom companies a pass on their roles in Bush's illegal eavesdropping scheme.