ACLU Letter to the House Strongly Urging Members to Vote No on S. 2248, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act

February 14, 2008
RE:     Vote “No” on S. 2248, and on any bill that authorizes warrantless surveillance or grants retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that facilitated illegal spying.

Dear Representative,

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On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), America’s oldest and largest civil liberties organization, its 53 affiliates, and over half a million members, we write to ask that you vote “no” on S. 2248, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act if it should come to the floor, and on any bill that authorizes warrantless surveillance on American soil or grants retroactive immunity to companies who broke the law by facilitating illegal spying – even if it means that the so-called Protect America Act (PAA) lapses.

This past August Congress rushed through the Protect America Act, which permits massive, untargeted spying on Americans -- this week you will have the opportunity to undo that grievous mistake by letting it sunset completely.  Regrettably, in its current form S. 2248, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2007, essentially leaves the Protect America Act intact and permits the government to collect all communications coming into and out of the United States without any prior court review, without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and without any limits on how such information can be used once collected.  Further, it seeks the dismissal of all cases aiming to hold the telecommunication companies accountable for their illegal wiretapping activities.  Ultimately, it writes the PAA into law for six years to come and prevents Americans from seeking any justice for abuses of the past. 

To be clear, if the PAA sunsets, current foreign surveillance orders under PAA could be in operation for up to an additional year, thereby allowing the intelligence community to continue programs already underway.  Even Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer has noted that a sunset of PAA does not mean that the activities already authorized by the administration necessarily end. If the Protect America Act sunsets, all current programmatic orders could operate for an additional year, and new surveillance would simply revert to the FISA that has been updated dozens of times and has served our intelligence community for thirty years.

For these reasons, the ACLU strongly urges you to reject any bill that ratifies the government’s warrantless wiretapping authority or grants retroactive immunity to companies who participated in warrantless surveillance of Americans.  A sunset of these unprecedented and expansive authorities is far preferable to advancing a bill that encroaches on Americans’ privacy. 

Sincerely,              

Caroline Fredrickson                                                    
Director                                                                                   
ACLU Washington Legislative Office

 

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