FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC –Today, after the White House missed its second deadline to respond to congressional subpoenas for information on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, the American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress to hold the Bush administration accountable. The new compliance date was set by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) after both the House and Senate passed the administration’s sweeping changes to the very law it circumvented with the domestic spying program – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The ACLU is asking Senator Leahy and the Committee to vote to hold the White House in contempt upon Congress’ return in September.
"The Bush administration's persistent stonewalling represents a unique kind of arrogance," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "Since this program's disclosure, the Senate has asked for key documentation only to be repeatedly denied. After bulldozing broad reforms to FISA through both chambers two weeks ago, the administration believes it can push this Congress around. Congress has to stand up to this administration by holding it in contempt and by revisiting its rash reforms to FISA."
This month, Congress passed expansive changes to FISA at the urgent insistence of the White House, effectively gutting the law. The legislation that passed would allow for the intelligence agencies to intercept – without a court order – the calls and emails of Americans who are communicating with people abroad, and puts authority for doing so in the hands of the attorney general. No protections exist in the bill for the U.S. end of the call or email, again, leaving it to the executive branch to collect, sort, and use this information as it sees fit.
"No one has done more to earn the label of contempt than this White House," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "The administration got what it was after by gutting FISA and now seems anxious to deny Congress its constitutional role of oversight when it comes to the broad surveillance program. Now is not the time to do the bidding of a White House that has bullied and thumbed its nose at Congress. There must be consequences. Americans’ rights were violated and they deserve to know how and why."
In the first effort of its kind, the ACLU filed a request on August 8 with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requesting that it disclose recent legal opinions discussing the scope of the government's authority to engage in secret wiretapping of Americans. In their aggressive push to justify passing this ill-advised legislation, the administration and members of Congress made repeated and veiled references to orders issued by the FISC earlier this year. On August 17th, the court said the request was "unprecedented" and required the government to respond to the ACLU's request by August 31.
The ACLU is also continuing its challenge in the courts to the president's illegal wiretapping plan. In July, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's decision declaring the NSA program unconstitutional and ruled that the ACLU's clients - scholars, journalists, and national nonprofit organizations - were not entitled to sue because they could not state with certainty that they had been secretly wiretapped by the NSA. The ACLU is currently weighing its options, including an appeal to the Supreme Court.
"When the sunset expires, Congress will once again be faced with deciding just how far the government can intrude into the communications of people within the United States," added Romero. "The ACLU will continue hold both the administration and Congress accountable and will fight for the release of crucial documents that the public needs in order to have an informed debate about our most fundamental rights."
The ACLU is also litigating a Freedom of Information Act case demanding documents and data referring to the government’s illegal program. That case is pending before the federal district court in Washington DC.
To read more about the ACLU’s concerns with the NSA subpoenas,
More information on the ACLU’s concerns with the NSA spying is