FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - As the House of Representative began debate on H.R. 5825, the "Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act," the American Civil Liberties Union called on lawmakers to adopt a bipartisan motion to refer the bill back to the committees, and failing that, to reject the misguided proposal. Authored by Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM), the bill would give the president extraordinary power and authorize the warrantless surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency.
"Lawmakers must stand firm in their commitment to the Constitution and reject the president’s power grab," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The Wilson bill would give the president a blank check to ignore Fourth Amendment protections and undermine our privacy. The Republican leadership is using national security as a wedge issue for the upcoming elections and chipping away at the Constitution in the process."
In a move demonstrating the Republican leadership’s unwillingness to have an open debate on the issue, the House Rules Committee rejected several bipartisan amendments that would have brought the NSA spying back in line with the requirements of the Constitution. Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jane Harman (D-CA) and Bob Inglis (R-SC) are expected to offer a motion to recommit the bill, with instructions.
The Wilson bill would also authorize warrantless surveillance of Americans without showing a court any probable cause of wrongdoing and would suspend Fourth Amendment rights for extended periods if there were an attack or whenever the president declares an "imminent threat of attack likely to cause death, serious injury, or substantial economic damage" exists. The ACLU has objected to the vague language, which would create a huge loophole from the requirement of individual court warrants to monitor Americans' conversations.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) already permits the government to retroactively apply for a warrant in emergencies. The president, however, has refused to seek warrants for surveillance of Americans under the NSA program three days after starting an urgent wiretap - as is currently permitted or, indeed, ever. The Wilson bill would allow the administration to continue to bypass court approval or supervision of individual wiretaps of American residents.
"If this bill is adopted, Congress would be authorizing more warrantless surveillance of Americans than ever before," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "One federal court has already found the NSA's warrantless spying on Americans to be unconstitutional and illegal. We implore lawmakers to reject this effort to condone the president’s abuse of power by granting him a legal framework for the vast and unchecked powers he seeks."
The ACLU’s letter on the Wilson bill is available at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/26795leg20060920.html
A coalition letter on the Wilson bill is available at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/26939leg20060928.html