Democratic Congress Gives Bush Administration Tools Necessary to Defeat FISA Court
I've spent much of the weekend stewing over the utter capitulation by the Democratic-controlled Congress to the Bush administration in passing a totally unacceptable revision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA is supposed to check government overreaching and invasion of privacy in conducting electronic surveillance. The revision just made not only authorizes warrantless eavesdropping on calls and emails between persons outside the U.S. that happen to be routed through this country, it permits warrantless surveillance between a U.S. resident and anyone overseas (whether a U.S. citizen or not) when the "target" is "reasonable believed" to be outside the country. Voila! The Bush Administration will now eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. Moreover, the revisions largely emasculate the FISA court, a secret judicial panel that is supposed to review requests to conduct surveillance and issue warrants when appropriate. Now the court will have no role except reviewing procedures employed by Administration officials (the Attorney General and the Director of National Security) in authorizing such surveillance. Even if the Attorney General were a person of integrity, it would still be a ludicrous and disastrous scheme.
Even the bill initially offered up by the Democratic leadership of the House (and excoriated by the GOP) went much too far in yielding oversight and permitting invasion of privacy. The bill actually passed effectively legalizes the entire enhanced surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency since 9/11, despite all of the warnings raised about it and the FISA court ruling against it. The track record of this administration in abusing its power should have been warning enough not to expand its legal authority even a little. Instead, Congress gave it everything it wanted.
The only good thing I can think of about this law is that it is temporary. (I cannot say that passing it will prevent the GOP from playing the "soft on terror" card against the Democrats. No amount of capitulation would do that.) However, the temporary nature of this odious law may well be an illusion. The chances of it not being made permanent are about as dim as reining in the Patriot Act, and for much the same reason. When the six months have run, the GOP will again speak of 9/11 with quavering voices and hiss that the Democrats hate America and love terrorists, and the Democrats will once again fold.
Unless. Unless there is an outpouring of protest over this unAmerican assault on our civil rights. Unless everyone who treasures liberty, everyone who agrees with our nation's founders that government must be restrained by checks and balances and limits on government authority, exercises the constitutional right to petition Congress about it. In other words, heed what OhDave wrote this morning:
This Friday, everyone needs to call their Congressperson's home office (since they're on recess) and express their outrage over this FISA bill. Let them know how we feel. If they voted the right way, tell 'em good job. If they didn't, tell 'em what you think.
It's not hard. Go to house.gov or senate.gov and find your Senator or Representative, and look for their contacts. It takes 2 minutes or less. And it takes about that long to call, or you can find a comment form on their site if you would rather do that.
We have to make our voices heard.