FISA Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Your House member will need to hear from you. Soon. Like, today. Find his or her contact information here.

New York Times, Saturday

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA — which Mr. Bush decided to ignore after 9/11 — requires a warrant to intercept telephone calls and e-mail messages between people in the United States and people abroad.

The House has passed a reasonable new bill — fixing FISA without further endangering civil liberties. But Mr. Bush wants to weaken FISA as much as he can. And the Senate leadership has been only too happy to oblige.

With the help of Republican senators and the misguided chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, the White House got a bill that, once again, reduces court supervision of wiretapping. It also adds immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the illegal spying…

Mr. Reid — who is still falling for the White House’s soft-on-terrorism bullying — set up deliberations in a way that ensured that a better Judiciary Committee version of the bill would die a procedural death and that the Intelligence Committee bill would pass.

The Judiciary bill died this week, with the help of other bullyable Democratic senators like Mr. Rockefeller, Claire McCaskill, Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson. The Republicans repaid them by announcing they would block any further attempts to reach a compromise.

It is now up to the House to protect Americans’ rights. Mr. Bush has already started issuing the ritual claims that if his bill is not passed instantly, Osama bin Laden will be telephoning his agents in the United States and no one will know. Let us be clear, Mr. Bush has always had the authority to order emergency wiretaps — and get court approval after the fact. That has never been the problem with FISA.

The House should vote to extend last summer’s flawed rules for at least 30 days and go on recess, forcing the Senate to do the same thing, and then bring the whole matter to a conference committee. There will then be plenty of time for a real debate.

For inspiration along with a good rundown on the why’s and wherefore’s, read Senator Chris Dodd’s statement on the Senate floor Friday. It’s here. Here’s a snippet —

Mr. President, I spoke yesterday about a crime that may have been committed against millions of innocent Americans: their phone calls, their faxes, their e-mails, every word listened in to and copied down by government bureaucrats into a massive database.
I spoke about how our largest telecommunications companies leapt at the chance to betray the privacy and the trust of their own customers.
That spying didn’t happen in a panic or short-term emergency, not for a week or a month—it went on, relentlessly, for more than five years. And if the press didn’t expose it, I imagine it would still be going on today.
We saw how President Bush responded when he was exposed. Not by apologizing. Not even by making his best case before our courts. But by asking for a Congressional cover-up: retroactive immunity.
He asked us to do it on trust. There are classified documents, he says, that prove his case beyond a shadow of a doubt. But we’re not allowed to see them! I’ve served in this body for 27 years, and I’m not allowed to see them! Neither are a majority of my colleagues.
And when we resist his urge to be a law unto himself, how does he respond? With fear. When we question him, he says, we are failing “to keep the American people safe.”
Shame on him. Shame on his scare tactics.

And shame on Harry Reid and his scared self and his scared colleagues — putting their quaking little images-to-be-presented-to-their-voters above the Constitution.

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