Blog of Rights

Patriot Act Redux

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:14pm
I was working for the ACLU on September 11, 2001. Our offices were about a block away from Capitol Hill, directly across the street from the Supreme Court. That morning, we all knew two things: a) we were scared, and b) the aftermath would not be the most conducive environment for level-headed legislating.

Unfortunately, that aftermath has been prolonged, and prolonged again, by the Bush administration's disingenuous use of our pent-up anxiety to thumbscrew Congress into voting in the spirit of the first Tuesday in November, rather than with their brains.

This weekend's FISA vote is perhaps the purest expression of this cynical politicking. Without nary a peep in the five years since we first started doctoring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with the original USA Patriot Act, the Bush administration came to Congress two weeks ago, pushing for FISA "modernization."

The claim, the White House said, was that FISA was outdated because certain conversations involving two individuals overseas, usually subject to intercept by intelligence agencies without warrants or judicial review, were deemed off-limits because bits and bytes of those communications passed through American telecommunications networks.

The truth, of course, was far afield from this claim. In essence, what the administration is looking for is a shortcut to wiretap domestic-to-foreign conversations, on American soil, without having to go through the minimal independent review provided by the FISA court.

And the administration appears to have succeeded.

In any event, here's some coverage and commentary on this historic, and soon-to-be infamous, revisit of the Patriot Act legislative process - a bill that was thrust through on the wings of fear, without adequate deliberation. From an editorial in this morning's Washington Post:

This [FISA modernization] is as reckless as it was unnecessary. Democrats had presented a compromise plan that would have permitted surveillance to proceed, but with court review and an audit by the Justice Department's inspector general, to be provided to Congress, about how many Americans had been surveilled. Democrats could have stuck to their guns and insisted on their version. Instead, nervous about being blamed for any terrorist attack and eager to get out of town, they accepted the unacceptable.

The New York Times had these today and yesterday. The Post's coverage is here. ThinkProgress linked to the ACLU's action alert yesterday. And here's a concise and neatly put summary of the whole thing on TPM.

If there's anything to be optimistic about in this dark moment in American history, it's that this bill is only good for six months, and as ACLU Legislative Director Caroline Fredrickson pointed out, "Luckily, the sunset expires in the midst of primary season - so the voters will be able to keep lawmakers at their word."

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