President Bush Asking for More Power to Wiretap Americans, Gutting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

July 28, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union is responding to President George W. Bush’s call for the gutting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. These remarks can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union:

“This administration now makes the outrageous claim that they need even more power to wiretap without warrants. The administration claims the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act must be ‘modernized.’ Actually, it needs to be followed. The reality is, their proposal would gut FISA.

“Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, claims that terrorism has outrun the law, but it is the administration that has outrun the law – and the Constitution – by trying to bypass the FISA court. Under the proposal that the Cheney team is floating on Capitol Hill a ‘modernized’ FISA would simply be a blank check for warrantless domestic and international surveillance.

“The President claims that they need to expand FISA based on new technology. They are wrong. FISA was written to be technology neutral. There is absolutely no new technology that cannot be intercepted with a warrant under FISA. None. Even the man responsible for prepping and filing all FISA applications, James Baker, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, has said that, ‘There’s no type of collection that’s prohibited by the statute.’ By the way, FISA was modernized by the Patriot Act, by Intelligence Reform legislation and by the re-authorization of the Patriot Act. In fact, FISA has been updated 50 times since it was enacted in 1978.

“It takes an enormous amount of hubris to ask for more power on the heels of revelations that the President tried to go around his own attorney general on his NSA domestic electronic eavesdropping program. The already-shaky legal ground on which this domestic spying program stood is crumbling beneath those who defend it.

“With former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s damning testimony about the 2004 late-night visit to the sickbed of former Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the program, there is no legal curtain to hide behind. When John Ashcroft is one of the voices speaking up for privacy, the ACLU takes notice and so should the American people.

“Hidden in this bill is a disturbing provision that would give 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. It is unprecedented and undemocratic to give retroactive and sweeping immunity to an entire industry. Not to mention, giving blanket immunity before a full and public airing of the facts. The telecom companies should not be handed a congressional pardon for breaking privacy laws. Who exactly is the administration looking out for when they ask Congress to let the phone companies off the hook for violating Americans’ privacy?

“Not for lack of trying, Congress has made little progress in finding out more about the administration’s various violations of FISA during the their warrantless wiretapping program. The Senate Judiciary Committee has asked politely for the legal rationale for the program nine times before issuing subpoenas, and has not yet gotten an answer due to consistent stonewalling by the administration and the Department of Justice.

“The NSA program was and is a fundamental violation of the rights of Americans. The American public and their elected Senators and Representatives do not yet know the full extent of the warrantless wiretapping program or the extent to which FISA has been violated.

“This is not the time to hand even more power to an administration that has permitted the wholesale abuse of civil liberties; has denied the legislative branch’s constitutionally mandated oversight role and refused to hold the attorney general accountable for a series of conflicting claims that defy logic, the law and common sense. The only thing more outrageous than the administration’s call for even more unfettered power is a Congress that would consider giving it to them.”

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