Blog of Rights

This Spade is a Spade: FISA Deal Is Bunk

By Amanda Simon at 7:38pm

So, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced his precious FISA deal today and I’m sure it will not come as great shock to this general audience that we at the ACLU think it’s crap. And by “crap” I mean unconstitutional.

Remember that horrible bill the Senate passed earlier this year? The one that had virtually no Fourth Amendment protections? Ok, now imagine Congressman Hoyer and Senator Bond putting a really pretty, really meaningless bow around it to distract you from what’s actually inside. Then they added a giveaway to the phone companies. There. Now you have the current FISA bill. Let me explain.

  • Court review? Pssh. Please. This is how it would work: The government wants to tap someone’s phone. It claims “exigent circumstances” and begins to do so. Then it goes to the FISA Court to be granted a warrant. “Hold up,” says the court. “This application is problematic and based on heresay.” Now the government starts the appeals process and that goes on for heaven knows how long. When does the surveillance stop on the problematic target? Um, never. The government is allowed to begin tapping without the courts and continue tapping when the court says no, provided it appeals. Nice, strong and meaningful judicial review, huh?

  • Immunity? Yes. Yes, it is. Here’s why: This immunity “compromise” sets the bar so low that anyone can clear it. Immunity hinges on whether a document from the president or government exists asking the companies to comply? We know they have them. You know who told us? The president. Asking the phone companies to put on their Sunday best, waltz to the courthouse and present a note from the leader of the free world does not a full and fair airing of the facts make. It’s a farce and, frankly, it’s offensive to those of us who cherish our privacy rights. Congress will be opening a Pandora’s box if this provision becomes law. What’s to prevent these companies from handing over our information again? Absolutely nothing.

So, Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights and presumption of privacy are both teetering on the verge of irrelevance and guess who wins? The telecoms and the re-election coffers of all the members who vote for this. For those of you around at the end of last July, this is eerily familiar. The administration working behind the scenes with congressional leadership, false deadlines, general cowardliness…Protect America Act anyone? Maybe that’s too harsh. Oh wait…no it’s not. This bill has immunity.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth and better written look, God bless Glenn Greenwald. And if you happen to be a member of Congress trolling the ACLU Blog of Rights, maybe you should read yesterday’s New York Times editorial for instructions on how to behave during this vote.

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