It seems to be customary over time that blogs become festooned with various little symbols and buttons that you can push to go to all sorts of interesting places. The latest one to arrive here is for the Accountability Now PAC, which has been formed to bring accountability to those congresspeople who have sold out our freedoms to the telecommunications industry. This is the Strange Bedfellows campaign that I wrote about earlier.
The FISA Amendment bill, HR6304, which is the latest in a long string of bad bills that have made it onto the Senate floor, is to be voted on tomorrow. If you haven't already, call or write your Senators to urge them to reject this nonsense. Here's what I wrote my Senators:
Once again, I'm writing because the Senate seems determined to prostitute itself and the country to the telecommunications industry. The current FISA bill is wrong. It will let both the telecommunications executives and, by extension, President Bush off the hook for disobeying the law.
The Democratic leadership have offered a number of pathetic excuses for this bill. None pass the sniff test.
They have insisted that it is needed in order to renew FISA. This is a farce. FISA has no sunset provision. It has been on the books, with modifications, since the late 1970s.
They insist that it will define FISA as the law concerning all telecommunications monitoring. This is also a lie. FISA is the law concerning telecommunications now, as it has always been. It expressly says so in its scope.
They insist, as does the Bush Administration, that telecomm companies will not perform wiretaps in the future if they are not indemnified. This is also patently false. FISA requires that they obey all lawful requests for surveillance.
That the Democrats are offering such phony excuses is a sign of just how little they have accomplished since we sent them there to fix what the Bush Administration have broken. Rule of law is one of the things they've broken. Fix it by rejecting this bill, and by aiding Senators Dodd and Feingold in whatever way you can.
The New York Times wrote an editorial explaining why this is a bad bill. They encapsulate the problem well in these paragraphs:
The Senate should reject a bill this week that would needlessly expand the government’s ability to spy on Americans and ensure that the country never learns the full extent of President Bush’s unlawful wiretapping.
The bill dangerously weakens the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Adopted after the abuses of the Watergate and Vietnam eras, the law requires the government to get a warrant to intercept communications between anyone in this country and anyone outside it — and show that it is investigating a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, that plans to harm America.
Compromising the Constitution
What's worse, it's not just about telephones any more. Nowadays, all voice and data communications in the modern world flow over the same lines. It's all data now. The same tap can watch both telephone and Internet communications. Today, your "papers", as described by the Fourth Amendment, pass over these lines. Ars Technica elaborates:
Specifically, the new legislation dramatically expands the government's ability to wiretap without meaningful judicial oversight, by redefining "oversight" so that the feds can drag their feet on getting authorization almost indefinitely. It also gives the feds unprecedented new latitude in selecting eavesdropping targets, latitude that could be used to collect information on non-terrorist-related activities like P2P copyright infringement and online gambling. In short, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 opens up loopholes so large that the feds could drive a truck loaded down with purloined civil liberties through it.
Telco immunity is the icing, not the cake
Unfortunately, as the NYT observes:
Proponents of the FISA deal say companies should not be “punished” for cooperating with the government. That’s Washington-speak for a cover-up. The purpose of withholding immunity is not to punish but to preserve the only chance of unearthing the details of Mr. Bush’s outlaw eavesdropping. Only a few senators, by the way, know just what those companies did.
Restoring some of the protections taken away by an earlier law while creating new loopholes in the Constitution is not a compromise. It is a failure of leadership.
Compromising the Constitution
As my letter said, all the Democratic leadership have offered on this issue are pathetically false excuses. They call it a "compromise", even though the Republicans were happy to proclaim victory the moment it passed in the House. The title of that New York Times editorial explains what's really being compromised here. That they are willing to offer such feeble excuses tells me that they think this thing is going to pass.
The Accountability Now PAC is about holding the people who have prostituted our rights to the telecomms and the Bush Administration accountable for these actions. You can help by clicking the Strange Bedfellows button and pledging to donate on August 8. More money means more clout. Congress clearly doesn't care about our rights, so maybe it's time that we owned the Congress.