House Stands Up to Threats from the White House on Domestic Surveillance

February 14, 2008
ACLU urges careful consideration of cherished constitutional rights

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

Washington, DC – The Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives stared down the White House today and decided to stick with their version of revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The House voted to adjourn without letting the phone companies off the hook for breaking the law by helping the government spy on Americas. The House is leaving town and allowing the unconstitutional Protect America Act to expire this weekend.

Statement from Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office:

“It is heartening that the House is standing up to the bullying from the president. The House is saying it will not give in to the administration’s lies and fear mongering. This administration has abused its power time and time again, and finally the House is standing up and saying no. The House is also sticking with the decision it made back in November not to give the phone companies and the Internet providers amnesty for illegal actions over the past six years when they provided Americans’ private calls and emails to the government without warrants.

“Members of the House were wise to let the clearly unconstitutional Protect America Act expire. Now, if the government wants to wiretap Americans on American soil it needs to get a warrant from the FISA court. 

“The House sent the president a welcome reminder from the people that no one is above the law. Not the telecom providers. Not the White House.”

Fredrickson said that although the Protect America Act is set to expire this weekend, it doesn’t mean the new mass, untargeted surveillance programs authorized under that act will expire. Certain provisions of the Protect America Act will live beyond the law’s expiration date, including:

          · Orders under the Protect America Act can last for up to a year. Orders issued in the past six months will continue through their internal expiration date. So, for example, if the attorney general and director of national intelligence issue year-long orders on 2/15/08, they will run uninhibited until 2/15/09. (See PAA Section 6:  Authorizations in Effect - Authorizations for the acquisition of foreign intelligence information pursuant to the amendments made by this Act, and directives issued pursuant to such authorizations, shall remain in effect until their expiration.)

            · Orders are not specific to individuals and can pick up new targets in the future. Although the orders are secret, we know the authority granted to the executive branch allowed them to create whole programs of surveillance that are not confined to any specific individual or facility – in fact, that breadth is precisely what the PAA is about. So, as programs continue, it stands to reason agents can pick up new suspects, phone lines, email accounts, etc., without the need to return to court. 

            In addition to all these continuing PAA authorities, if the government wants to listen to terrorists abroad it has a host of other options:

            · Collecting the call overseas where no warrant or order is required at all

            · Collecting the call here without an order under the 72-hour emergency provision

            · Collecting the call here under a FISA court order

            To read more about the ACLU’s efforts to keep America safe and free and specifically to read about the FISA fight, visit www.aclu.org/fisa

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