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FISA Needs Following, Not Modernizing

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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September 5, 2007

It’s not always easy crystallizing the civil liberties message to a broad audience. I mean, let’s face it, there’s a big leap between selling SUVs and the Fourth Amendment.

But in the lead-up to Congress’ return and today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on FISA, own version of the glitzy, high-def car commercial is kicking up some Capitol dust.

In the ads, two sheep, ear-tagged Pelosi and Reid, talk about their failure to shepherd the Democratic majority into a stand against Bush’s extraordinary expansion of government surveillance authority.

Our sheep are still in the “lamblight” this week and the message is clear: Congress must restore privacy protections and judicial review to the NSA spy program. Even one of the targets of our ads, Speaker Pelosi, implored Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Intelligence Chair Reyes to come up with an alternative to the wiretapping expansions in the “Police America Act.”

The sheep comparison seems to have stuck. Both the Washington Post and Boston Globe mentioned the ads in this week’s roundups on FISA legislation.

The hastily-voted FISA expansion sunsets in six months: That means come January, the Democratically-led Congress must grow a spine and stand up to the president’s power grab.

An appeal to Democratic members of Congress: Pass sound, controlled counterterrorism legislation that provides the authorities needed but with appropriate bulwarks against abuse. Force the hard votes. That’s not only possible and politically feasible – it’s your constitutional duty. Stand up to the fear-mongering. It’s not like Republican legal eagles are lockstep behind the administration’s radical position. And with key Bush staffers resigning right and left (well, mostly right), it’s not as if the president has a strong mandate for his extreme views. Voters are hungry for change.

The electorate gave you a mandate in 2006. For freedom’s sake, use it.