ACLU Warns Congress Against Broadening FISA Power

May 1, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union called today’s FISA hearing held by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee a setback to the rule of law. The committee met to discuss and hear testimony from administration officials about proposed “modernization” to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act submitted by Department of Justice and intelligence community officials.

“Broadening FISA would only reward and legitimize both the Justice Department and executive branch’s numerous violations of the law,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Giving the Department of Justice more latitude to conduct warrantless searches is ludicrous when you consider that it has shown no restraint with the power it already has. If a little boy destroys a tricycle, you don’t hand him the keys to the car.”

While the Administration claims that the proposed FISA changes would “modernize” the law, in truth they would gut the judicial oversight mechanisms carefully crafted to prevent abuse, while expanding the scope of communications that can be intercepted under FISA. Ironically, the changes would return intelligence gathering to the pre-FISA era and earlier, when warrants were largely optional and abusive spying was not limited to people who had done something wrong.

In fact, despite many recent hearings about “modernization” and “technology neutrality,” the administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current FISA standards have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies, or proven unworkable for the agents tasked with following them.

More disturbingly, this bill includes complete immunity – from criminal prosecution as well as civil liability – for the telecom companies’ participation in the National Security Agency’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. The telecom companies provided customer call data on millions of Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing. The ACLU noted that this rush to retroactive immunity for an entire industry in the absence of a full and thorough airing of the facts is unprecedented.

“Congress should not allow the Administration to treat innocent Americans as suspects,” said Fredrickson. “It also most certainly should not hand telecom companies a get-out-of-jail-free card for violating their customers’ privacy. Our lawmakers must prove that they are working on behalf of their constituents – not big business.”

To read the ACLU’s letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, go to:

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