With FISA legislation heading to the floor this week, we wanted to make sure everyone was up to speed on the latest. Last week it was revealed in a story in the Rocky Mountain News that illegal domestic spy was going on before 9/11. According to the article, Qwest, a telecom company, was originally approached by the National Security Agency to cooperate in its domestic spying program way back in February 2001. This is significant for two reasons: First, it reiterates that phone companies had a choice whether or not to violate their customers’ privacy, and secondly, it proves that the illegal domestic spying program was going on before 9/11. Interesting that the Bush administration says it needs changes to FISA because of 9/11, but we have to ask: If the illegal program was going on before 9/11, does that mean it didn’t prevent the 9/11 attacks from happening? This revelation should really be the nail in the coffin for telecom immunity. Let’s hope Congress pays attention.
In related news, there are also reports flying that Republicans are planning to use one of DNI McConnell’s many FISA misrepresentations as a basis for passage of the bill. You may remember controversy around the slow response to the kidnapping of U.S. soldiers in Iraq was actually the fault of internal bureaucracy at DOJ and had nothing to do with FISA. When this originally came out, we responded with a blog post to refute it. I highly recommend checking it out again – especially if it’ll be used to push this flawed legislation again.
To break it down, here’s a quick timeline of what we expect this week. Today the House Rules Committee reconciled the two bills that were voted out of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. This reconciled bill will be the one the House votes on. Tomorrow, the Rules Committee will determine the rule of the vote – meaning what amendments will be allowed, etc. Wednesday is the big day, with the bill heading to the floor for a full House vote. We’re crossing our fingers that an amendment by Rep. Rush Holt will be added that would be a real fix for this bill and require individual warrants. Thursday, the fight goes to the Senate with the Intelligence Committee marking up (meaning editing) the bill behind closed doors. We’re already hearing the Senate will include telecom immunity so, right out of the gate, we’ve got major issues with the Senate bill.
The ACLU’s bottom line with these FISA bills is this – the Constitution requires individual warrants for Americans on American soil and that telecom immunity stays out of the bill no matter what. Without these guarantees, we’re looking at an uphill battle in both the House and the Senate.