Update On FISA Amendments Act
A week ago, Michael Arcuri, our member of the U.S. House of Representatives joined forces with George W. Bush and the congressional Republicans by first limiting the debate on the FISA Amendments Act to just one hour (with less than 10 minutes given to opponents of the bill to express their concerns), and then voting for the bill himself.
The FISA Amendments Act extends the legalization of George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, by:
- Allowing massive electronic surveillance of emails, telephone calls and other electronic forms of communication. No evidence of suspicion of any criminal wrongdoing is required. No search warrants are asked for. The FISA court will have no power to stop the government from spying, and won’t be able to stop the government from using evidence obtained through spying, even if it concludes that spying has been done in violation of the Constitution or the law. Even if the loose terms of the FISA Amendments Act are violated, courts will have no power to stop the illegal activity.
- Allowing physical searches as well, without a search warrant, without court approval, and without congressional oversight.
- There is not even internal oversight of the spying programs. Under the FISA Amendments Act, the Attorney General of the United States runs the spy programs against American citizens, and the Attorney General is the only person with the power to certify that the spying is being done in accordance with the law.
- Telecommunications companies that violated the law by giving the Bush White House private files about the personal communications of millions of Americans – communications fully within the United States – will be given retroactive legal immunity.
These provisions of the FISA Amendments Act make it in clear violation of the fourth amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The bill has gone on to the Senate, and debate on the bill has begun. Although unrelated legislation has delayed the final vote until Friday, yesterday a group of 15 Democratic senators attempted to block the legislation in preparation for a filibuster.
Yesterday, I called the offices of our senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, and asked for information about how they would vote on the bill, and whether they would support a filibuster. The answers from both offices didn’t shed much light. Senator Schumer’s office refused to make any statement. Hillary Clinton’s office would only say that she is opposed to one provision within the bill – retroactive immunity – but refused to commit to opposition to the entire bill.
Yesterday, an important test vote took place, and the results don’t look good. The vote was on cloture, meaning that the question of the vote was whether the FISA Amendments Act should move forward to a vote on Friday. 80 voted yes. 15 voted no.
5 were absent – two because they were campaigning for President, two because they are gravely ill (Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd), and one because… well… that’s not clear. Hillary Clinton did not show up to work in the Senate yesterday.
Charles Schumer was present. He voted with the 15 Democrats, against the FISA Amendments Act.