ACLU Slams Senate Judiciary Committee’s Approval of NSA Spying Bills

September 13, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly rebuked the Senate Judiciary Committee for adopting legislation that approves warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency. The move follows a recent court decision finding the surveillance both illegal and unconstitutional. The Bush administration has thus far stonewalled efforts by the committee to conduct meaningful oversight over the program.

"Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee acted as a rubber stamp for the administration’s abuse of power," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress has a right and obligation to conduct meaningful oversight on the unlawful actions of the president. But instead of investigating lawbreaking, the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to make it legal. We urge the full Senate to reject any attempts to ratify this illegal program."

By a vote of 10 to 8, the committee approved S.2453, the "National Security Surveillance Act." That bill, crafted by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) gives the president the option of complying - or not - with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the protections of the Fourth Amendment.

The bill would also: vastly increase the government’s statutory power to examine all international phone conversations and emails, making warrantless surveillance of Americans’ conversations the rule rather then the exception and expand the ability to conduct warrantless physical searches of Americans’ homes.

Senator Mike DeWine’s (R-OH) "Terrorist Surveillance Program Act of 2006" (S. 2455) was approved by a vote of 10 to 8. This bill would weaken the probable cause requirement for spying on people in the US - sweeping in innocent Americans - allow extended warrantless surveillance, limit judicial review and punish whistleblowers.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Improvement and Enhancement Act of 2006" (S. 3001), co-sponsored by Senator Specter, was also approved today in the only bipartisan vote taken by the Judiciary Committee, with the support of Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Specter, on a vote of 10 to 8. Her bill would restore the rule of law by requiring the president to follow the exclusive procedures set by Congress for wiretapping Americans and it would also streamline the procedures to seek a FISA warrant.

The ACLU has urged Congress to reject any legislation that would authorize the president’s continued warrantless surveillance of Americans, as the Specter and DeWine bills would do, and has noted that Congress has failed to thoroughly investigate the secret programs authorized by the president. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has disclosed that President Bush personally interfered to stop an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility into the NSA’s warrantless surveillance. Vice President Cheney also personally intervened to block telecommunications companies from giving any testimony to Congress about the extent of the warrantless surveillance of Americans they have assisted the administration in obtaining. And, recently, a federal court in Detroit found the program to be both illegal and unconstitutional. That case is stayed pending appeal.

"The approval of partisan bills to ratify the illegal spying on Americans demonstrates cowardly obedience to the president, to the detriment of the liberty and privacy of the American people and the rule of law," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "Stonewalling and illegal spying have been rewarded with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s partisan approval of administration misconduct. Only Senator Feinstein’s bipartisan bill would help restore the rule of law. We call on the Senate to stand up for the Constitution and reject the Big Brother bills as non-starters that give the administration a blank check."

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

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