ACLU Demands House Reject Attempts to “Update” FISA, Says Constitution Must Not Be Undermined in Election-Year Tactic

September 6, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - Today the American Civil Liberties Union urged the House of Representatives to reject attempts to erode Fourth Amendment protections under the guise of "updating" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security met to consider several proposals that would condone President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.

"The Republican leadership is recklessly pushing legislation based on an election strategy, with no regard for how these bills undermine our fundamental freedoms," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "FISA doesn’t need to be updated. We hope that lawmakers will act to uphold the Constitution and Bill of Rights."

The ACLU noted FISA has already undergone extensive "updating." When the Patriot Act was originally passed and then reauthorized, Congress amended FISA extensively, much to the detriment of the law’s original civil liberties protections, although the requirement of warrants for wiretaps was left intact. However, despite the expanded powers at his disposal, inh 2001 President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to secretly wiretap Americans without a court order, in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment.

The White House has since stonewalled congressional attempts to investigate the administration’s circumvention of FISA. President Bush personally blocked an investigation by the Justice Department regarding the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Vice President Cheney personally blocked telecommunications companies from testifying before Congress. And recently, a federal court found the warrantless wiretapping program illegal and unconstitutional. Several bills have been introduced that would reward the government’s illegal actions by changing the law to legitimize the programs.

The ACLU has raised strong objections to S. 2453, the National Security Surveillance Act. Sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and drafted in close consultation with the White House, the Cheney-Specter bill would make complying with FISA and the Fourth Amendment optional for the president. The bill would also vastly expand the government’s ability to conduct warrantless surveillance and physical searches of Americans’ homes and businesses without judicial check.

Representatives Heather Wilson (R-NM), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) have introduced a similar bill, HR 5825, in the House. That proposal would give the president unprecedented power to conduct warrantless spying and physical searches of Americans on American soil for months at a time, without any judicial check or finding that an American is conspiring with al Qaeda. The bill also authorizes the warrantless surveillance program. The ACLU noted the bill allows any act of terrorism to trigger the suspension of the court order requirements of FISA.

"Congress must not reward the president’s disregard for the rule of law with legislation granting amnesty to his illegal actions," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "FISA was enacted to ensure that no president could unilaterally decide who to secretly and indefinitely wiretap under the guise of national security. These bills would allow terrorism to be used as a pretext for undermining our basic Fourth Amendment rights. Congress should not pass the bills which give the president a blank check to violate the rights of innocent Americans."

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the NSA warrantless surveillance program, go to: www.aclu.org/nsaspying

Statistics image