ACLU Urges House to Fix FISA Legislation, Warns Against Amnesty for Telecom Companies

September 5, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – Today the American Civil Liberties Union urged House Judiciary Committee members to address recent changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The inaccurately- named “Protect America Act” caused public outcry when it was rushed through Congress before the August recess. The legislation overhauled the surveillance law, reversing its original intent by stripping its privacy protections and judicial review.

“Congress needs to rein in the unconstitutional authority it granted the administration,” said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “FISA never needed to be ‘modernized’ – it needed to be followed. With the House and Senate back from recess, it’s time to give this ill-conceived legislation the attention and debate it deserves. Restoring judicial review and protecting the fundamental privacy rights of Americans should now take precedent over the administration’s power grab. Congress can fix this and it needs to.”

In its written testimony submitted to the committee, the ACLU stated that Congress has been eliminated as an independent check on abuses by the president and the National Security Agency. It added that no amendments to FISA should be made permanent until Congress and the public receive answers about what surveillance activities have been conducted over the last six years and the legal basis for those programs. The ACLU also believes that any legislation replacing the Protect America Act must reintroduce privacy protections into the treatment of communications intercepted between U.S. persons and persons reasonably believed to be outside of the United States.

Also with Congress’ return, the administration has renewed its lobby campaign for blanket immunity for telecommunications companies involved in the administration’s domestic spying program. The ACLU noted that this rush to retroactive amnesty for an entire industry, in the absence of a full and thorough airing of the facts, is unprecedented and wrong. “If companies broke the law, they should be held accountable,” Sparapani added.

“Handing the telecoms amnesty sets a precarious precedent and sends the dangerous signal that Americans’ privacy can be violated for the right price,” said Sparapani. “Who would be looking out for Americans’ privacy when the government comes knocking and the phone companies have no incentive to protect their customers’ records? Under no circumstances should Congress grant amnesty for companies that broke the law.”

To read the ACLU’s written testimony, go to: /safefree/nsaspying/31549leg20070905.html

For more information on the ACLU and FISA, go to:

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