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Washington, DC --The ACLU urges Senators to reject legislation that eviscerates the oversight structure of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Last night, the Senate voted to begin consideration of FISA legislation, although the timing of votes on the legislation is not clear.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed an the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R. 6304) that not only allows for the wide, sweeping collection of Americans' communications, but also grants immunity to telecommunications companies for their role in domestic spying. The ACLU vehemently opposes this bill.
"Moving forward on this terrible bill is disappointing to say the least," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "If the vote on final passage is delayed until after recess, we hope that Senators will return to their districts and see just how strongly their constituents oppose this bill. Perhaps the Fourth of July will remind them of the American values of liberty and freedom."
High-ranking Republicans have touted the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 as a victory for the Bush administration. Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) told reporters, "I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped to get."
"After years of being outraged at the Bush administration's flagrant disregard for FISA, Congress is poised to endorse its lawless behavior with this bill," said Fredrickson. "Not only will this bill allow for the wholesale violation of Americans' Fourth Amendment rights, it will close the door to any further investigations of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program by shutting down active court cases. If an amendment is introduced to strip the immunity provision from the bill, we strongly urge Senators to vote for it. The Senate is the last opportunity for any real improvements to be made to this legislation."
Fredrickson explained that no matter how often the FISA Amendments Act is called a "compromise," it is clearly a win for the Bush administration and the telecommunications companies. She said, "It allows for mass, untargeted and unwarranted surveillance of all communications coming in to and out of the United States. The court's role is superficial at best, as the government can continue spying on Americans' communications even after the FISA court has objected.
"Last August, we saw Congress succumb to the ill-conceived Protect America Act, promising to rein in the sweeping spy powers it granted. Ten months later, we're not only repeating that disastrous moment, but Congress is now on the verge of granting blanket immunity to the phone companies," added Fredrickson. "The Senate is now the Constitution's last vestige of hope. We strongly urge senators to vote against this bill and keep the Constitution intact."
Fredrickson added, "FISA has worked well for 30 years. Reject this legislation and let the FISA Court do its job."
To read the ACLU's letter to the Senate, go to: