ACLU Condemns Senate FISA Vote

February 12, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today slammed the U.S. Senate for not only authorizing the president’s warrantless wiretapping program but for granting immunity to his accomplices, the telecommunications companies. By a vote of 68 to 29, the Senate passed legislation amending and, in the end, gutting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The bill now must be conferenced with the House’s version of the bill – which contains no immunity and stricter Fourth Amendment protections – by February 16th, the recently extended expiration date of the equally disastrous Protect America Act.

“The Senate had multiple opportunities to improve this atrocious bill and failed at every turn,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Several amendments were offered to increase privacy protections, with many of them allowing for warrantless surveillance during emergency situations. It’s stunning that senators wouldn’t put their support behind amendments so fundamentally balanced. Protecting Americans’ communications from pervasive and ill-defined surveillance goes to the very heart of the Fourth Amendment. Unfortunately, the Senate seemed determined to pass the least constitutional FISA bill possible.”

During debate of the FISA Amendments Act of 2007, Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) offered two amendments to impose stricter privacy guidelines for Americans’ communications but both amendments were voted down. Senator Dodd also led a movement against immunity but was ultimately overtaken.

“Senators Feingold and Dodd deserve kudos for their attempts to help make this awful Senate bill more palatable,” said Fredrickson. “Though many questions still remain unanswered about years of domestic spying, the Senate has effectively sealed the vault by handing over immunity to the phone companies. The over forty legitimate lawsuits currently pending against them may end before they’ve begun. It’s a fact that Americans had their rights violated and now, by closing the courtroom door, they may be left with no recourse. The Senate failed us with this vote. It is a major step backward both for Americans’ privacy and the Constitution.”

To read more about the ACLU’s work on FISA, go to:

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