ACLU Sues to Stop New FISA Legislation

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
July 10, 2008 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, ME - The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit seeking to throw out the new FISA Amendments Act that would vastly expand the government's ability to conduct mass surveillance on the international communications of Americans.

The new law, which was signed by President Bush today, amends the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and allows the government to avoid any prior court review when it seeks to monitor Americans' international communications. Under the previous law, any surveillance had to be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said today the new law would facilitate the "mass acquisition" of information by the government, and would permit the government to conduct "intrusive surveillance without telling who, where, or why they are seeking the information."

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, challenges the new law as a violation of the First and Fourth Amendment rights to free speech and privacy. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of journalists and human rights activists whose ability to conduct their work will be hampered by the new law.

Among the plaintiffs is Naomi Klein, a journalist for The Nation magazine, whose communications with confidential, international sources will be jeopardized.

"I cannot in good conscience accept that my communications with people who live outside the U.S. will put them in harm's way because of overzealous government spying," said Klein. "Privacy in my communications is not simply an expectation, it's a right."

The new legislation would also grant immunity to the phone companies who aided the government by providing customers' information without proper court authorization. This would effectively end the legal cases which sought to hold the companies accountable for their participation in the program, including a case filed in Maine which sought to determine the extent of Verizon's participation in the program

"Congress has abandoned its responsibility to uphold the Constitution," said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. "We turn now to the courts to restore our Fourth Amendment right to privacy in our international Internet and telephone communications."

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