ACLU Calls on House to Reject Expanding Secret Domestic Surveillance; Senate Expected to Adopt Intrusive Measure this Afternoon

May 8, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today called on the House to reject a bill – expected to be adopted by the Senate this afternoon – that would allow secret intelligence investigations of individuals who are not engaged in espionage on behalf of a foreign power. The ACLU said the bill raises serious civil liberties concerns and is fundamentally unnecessary.

“”This legislation fails to address the root causes of our 9/11 intelligence missteps,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”Rather than any inability to collect information, Congress’s own inquiry into 9/11 revealed that deep structural problems and a deficit in effective analytical capacity led to our intelligence breakdown.””

“”The government’s current powers, if used effectively, are more than sufficient to meet the threats of the ‘lone wolf’ terrorists the bill seeks to target,”” Edgar added.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), removes the requirement that non-citizens targeted for surveillance under warrants issued by the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — known commonly as the FISA court — be acting on behalf of a foreign power.

This approach does away with a fundamental requirement Congress imposed in 1978 on secret intelligence surveillance – surveillance outside normal law enforcement rules – that said such surveillance could only take place if the secret court found that the target was acting on behalf a foreign government or foreign organization. Getting rid of the “”foreign power”” requirement against non-citizens, the ACLU noted, would allow broadly expanded surveillance powers on American soil.

Contrary to claims by the bill’s supporters, the denial by FBI headquarters of the Minneapolis FBI’s request for a FISA warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer was found by a Joint Inquiry of the House and Senate Select Intelligence Committees to be the result of officials misinterpreting the “”legal standard for obtaining an order under FISA”” and not the result of any legal limitation on surveillance authority.

“”Calling this bill a fix to the ‘Moussaoui problem’ is false advertising and simply ignores the findings of Congress’s own investigation,”” Edgar said.

The ACLU did praise some Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), for supporting an amendment that would preserve some discretion for the FISA Court to consider “”foreign power”” connections in authorizing intelligence surveillance warrants..

The ACLU’s letter to Congress opposing the bill can be found at:

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