On the eve of Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congress about his deep involvement in US Attorneygate, the Bush Administration has the gall to propose a bill which would greatly expand its ability to intercept telephone calls and e-mail correspondence as well as provide immunity to participating telecom companies. The bill would do far more damage to our right to privacy than many in the mainstream media are reporting.
According to the New York Times, Democratic leaders “reacted cautiously” to the White House proposal. (Even though “they have become increasingly concerned by disclosures of abuses in other data collection programs.”) But is this a time for caution in dealing with this White House and its cronies? It’s a time for spine, mettle, and moxie. The question that all small-d democrats need to ask themselves is this: are you a defender or a subverter of our Constitution?
The telecom immunity (with impunity!) provision of this should-be-dead-on-arrival proposal is easy to address. In opposing the measure, even Republican Senator Arlen Specter told The Times, “That provision is a pig in the poke. There has never been a statement from the Administration as to what these companies have done. That’s been an intolerable situation.”
As for White House claims that it is simply trying to “modernize” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – there is a clear record of FISA providing both the oversight needed to guard against executive abuse and meeting our nation’s national security needs.
As Elizabeth Holtzman noted in a Nation cover story, “Since 1978, when the law was enacted, more than 10,000 national security warrants have been approved by the FISA court; only four have been turned down.”
And Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and Legislative Counsel Timothy Sparapani, wrote in a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: “… the Administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current standards in FISA have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies or proven unworkable for the personnel tasked with following them.” Frederickson concluded in a statement, “FISA has been constantly violated since President Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping and data mining of Americans by the National Security Agency in 2001. Congress shouldn’t reward a president who continuously disregards the rule of law. FISA has already been amended numerous times. It doesn’t need to be ‘modernized,’ it needs to be followed.” Mike German, Policy Counsel, adds, “This proposal doesn’t ‘modernize’ FISA. It guts it.”