FISA Wiretaps Erode Civil Liberties
To the Editors:
Once again, the integrity of our Constitution is being threatened by our government. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was first passed in 1978 in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, establishes guidelines for how the U.S. government may spy on its citizens.
Under FISA, a secret court exists to approve warrantless wiretaps. 322 taps were approved in 1980. Under the Bush Administration the number has ballooned to 2,224 in 2006. In the entirety of its existence the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has only rejected five taps.
FISA has since been expanded upon by such bills as the PATRIOT Act and the Protect America Act of 2007. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Jay Rockefeller rushed The Protect America Act though Congress last summer at the behest of President Bush. The act, currently being debated in the Senate, is set to expire in less than two weeks.
Several Democrats have drafted Amendments, which would greatly improve the act. Arguably the most important is the Feingold-Dodd amendment that would strip telecom immunity from the bill. Telecom immunity denies U.S. citizens the right to sue telecommunications companies, which have assisted the Bush administration in spying on Americans without warrants.
“Immunity would prevent Americans from having their day in court to protect their privacy rights,” says Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. Critics argue that this amendment will not receive enough votes in Congress.
Other important amendments introduced by Senator Feingold’s amendments to prohibit the use of illegally obtained information and to limit bulk collection of intelligence.
Congressional Republicans and President Bush argue that the Protect America Act is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. However, rather than working with Democrats to protect Americans’ liberty and safety, Republicans have refused to compromise, instead using fear mongering for political gain.
It is vital that our representatives know which side of the debate we are on. If you are interested in learning more, check out the information on www.aclu.org or come to the Oberlin College ACLU meeting Mondays at 10 p.m. in Wilder 110. We will be tabling for and discussing FISA this next week.
OC ACLU Member
Co-Chair, OC ACLU