Talking Points on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008

July 1, 2008

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 is an unconstitutional bill that would significantly modify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It grants sweeping new monitoring powers to the government with little court oversight, and ensures the dismissal of all pending cases against telecommunication companies.

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The FISA Amendments Act was passed by the House of Representatives in June. The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation on Tuesday, July 8. Senators should be urged to vote against this unconstitutional bill.  

The FISA Amendments Act:

·  Gives the president broad new powers to spy on innocent Americans’ phone calls and emails – even when they have no connection to terrorism. It legalizes mass, untargeted and unwarranted spying on our international phone calls and emails.

· Restricts judicial oversight of the surveillance program. The FISA court will not know who, what or where will actually be monitored, and the government can continue a spying program even after it has been denied by the court.

· Provides retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies for their role in the president’s domestic spying program. The test in the bill is not whether government certifications sent to the companies were actually legal – only whether they were issued. 

Messages:

· After years of empty promises to rein in the president’s warrantless wiretapping program, Congress is now poised not only to make much of that program legal, but give him even greater powers to spy on our communications.

· The FISA Amendments Act is a wholesale giveaway of our Fourth Amendment rights. Every call or email coming in to or out of the U.S. could be tapped – including the calls and emails of innocent Americans – with minimal to no court oversight.

· For the past seven years, the telecoms illegally helped the administration spy on our phone calls and emails. If these legitimate consumer cases are thrown out, Americans may never learn the truth about what the companies and the government did with our private communications. 

· While congressional leaders are trying to paint this as a “compromise” bill, the truth is, it’s a colossal failure of leadership. The only things that have been compromised are the Constitution and the rule of law. No president should have unchecked power.

· The Senate should either fix the unconstitutional legislation or vote it down. While the ACLU supports efforts of Senators Feingold and Dodd to strip out the immunity provision, the final vote is the most critical. Our senators should vote “no” on passage unless significant improvements are made to protect Americans’ rights and ensure the telecoms are held accountable for their illegal activity.  

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