This week is the last week of the summer in which Congress plans to meet and pass bills. It’s a dangerous week for America because members of Congress know that Americans aren’t paying attention. This is the week when our leaders on Capitol Hill will try to pass laws that would embarrass them if we were looking. Such bills will be withdrawn from consideration if and only if people pay attention and raise their voices.
One of the measures that Congress is keen to slip through in August is a five-year reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, a law which is ostensibly designed to stop terrorists in their tracks but which critics have long noted contains loopholes to allow massive electronic spying on law-abiding Americans and even physical searches of their property — all without the probable-cause warrants required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although Barack Obama promised as a 2008 presidential candidate that he would reform the FISA Amendments Act to strengthen civil liberties protection, this year the Obama administration has been pushing for a five-year renewal of the Act — without a single reform.
Within the past two weeks, Senator Ron Wyden has gotten President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence to acknowledge that FISA spying has violated the constitutional rights of Americans, and subsequent to that admission has rallied a small but growing coalition of senators to stand in the way of FISA renewal until reforms are incorporated and the Obama administration offers more complete information about the violations of our rights under the law.
In another sign that the tide may be turning against renewal of the FISA Amendments Act, the American Civil Liberties Union has sent out a letter, mobilizing its membership to stop FISA reauthorization. The letter reads:
There is a bill before Congress right now that would rubberstamp the National Security Agency’s authority to spy on Americans’ international communications without a warrant and with limited oversight. A House vote could come at any time with an even more critical Senate vote to follow.
The 2008 FISA Amendments Act (FAA) ratified and expanded President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and gave the NSA almost unchecked power to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and emails.
Now, the Act is up for reauthorization — and there’s a big push to force it through with no public hearings; no public oversight; no thorough debate about how this law has been used and how it has affected Americans.
Act now. Urge your representative to demand answers and fix FISA.
What little information has emerged about the FAA suggests that the program has gone off the rails, being used to collect all sorts of information that was supposed to be off-limits. Just last week, the Director of National Intelligence publicly acknowledged that the government has violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions on unlawful search and seizure.
It’s time for a full public vetting of the FISA Amendment Act and for meaningful amendments to better protect our privacy. Urge your representative to reject calls for Congress to rubberstamp an out-of-control FISA Amendments Act reauthorization.
I agree with the ACLU — and now is the time for you to act. Not next week, when Congress is in recess. Not tomorrow, after members of Congress have had their last consultations with their staff. The time is now. Call the U.S. Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to get in touch with your two Senators and one Representative. Tell them to vote NO against passage of H.R. 5949 in the House and S. 3276 in the Senate — the two reauthorization bills. Tell them at the very least to demand more information from the Obama administration, and a hearing on violation of Americans’ rights, and a full floor debate before any vote takes place.
Don’t let the Congress get sly during summer’s silly season. Give your members of Congress a call right now.