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Civil Liberties at Stake as Bush Calls to Change FISA

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There’s nothing better than a good spy story these days.

We get them from movies (the upcoming The Bourne Ultimatum should be the most explosive of the adaptations of the Robert Ludlum espionage series), from books, and not wanting to be left out of the fun, President George W. Bush.

The president jumped in head first by wiretapping Americans’ phone lines without court approval. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration tapped my phone lines and read e-mails with some of the things I’ve written over the years.

In his weekly radio address, Bush called for a change to FISA — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 — that provides legal basis for the U.S. intelligence community to poke their noses in suspected terrorists’ business without violating Americans’ civil liberties.

He said, in essence, that if the law is not updated, America will be caught with its pants down and another 9/11 will happen. He said al Qaeda is using its growing strength in the Middle East to throw another stone at our glass house.

“Our intelligence community warns that under the current statute, we are missing a significant amount of foreign intelligence that we should be collecting to protect our country,” Bush said, according to CNN.com. “Congress needs to act immediately to pass this bill, so that our national security professionals can close intelligence gaps and provide critical warning time for our country.”

The law set up a secret court that met to review applications from the F.B.I, the National Security Agency, and other intelligence-collecting agencies to wiretap and search the homes of terrorist or espionage suspects in America.

Here’s the problem with FISA – it’s already a breach of our civil liberties. Need we forget that Bush has already had to answer questions about his use of warrantless wiretaps? The administration’s answer to breaking the law was that it needed to act more quickly to prevent 9/11: Part Deux. It also said the president had the power to wiretap anyone without court oversight in the Constitution.

In a strange turn of events, the administration also said they have cultivated the first flying pig.

In recent testimony on Capitol Hill, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said the tweak to FISA is to adjust it to the revolutionized way we communicate today. By following the law as is, he said, the U.S. is missing a chunk of what’s going on in the private lives of its citizens – oh, sorry, I meant a huge chunk of what’s being plotted against the United States.

So, to change the law means the government can become more voyeuristic. Heck, they already wanted to change what goes on in the bedrooms of consenting adults by changing the Constitution to say marriage is only between a man and a woman.

But, cooler heads are prevailing, as Democrats are saying they don’t want to move too quickly to change the law because civil liberties are on the chopping block. Also, Democrats don’t want to give Bush the ultimate power to spy on people.

“To date, our review has uncovered numerous inefficiencies in the current FISA system,” Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said earlier this week. “It is not yet clear whether changes to the statute are necessary, but if they are required and justified, we will address them.”

The change to FISA would mean that Big Brother (no, not the incredibly stupid television show) would get even bigger. There really is nothing better than a good spy story, until that story invades our privacy.

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About S. Manley

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Bush has one thing right. It’s time to replace or update FISA. The law was clearly unconstitutional from the get-go and ought to be done away with in that form. Warrants ought to be obtained in advance, not after the fact. However there is a point somewhere in there about new technology. It might be reasonable for a replacement law to authorize warrants obtained in advance for purely automated data mining of specific targets or groups of targets.

    Dave

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    The President claims that they need to expand FISA based on new technology. They are wrong. FISA was written to be technology neutral. There is absolutely no new technology that cannot be intercepted with a warrant under FISA. None. Even the man responsible for prepping and filing all FISA applications, James Baker, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, has said that, ‘There’s no type of collection that’s prohibited by the statute.’ By the way, FISA was modernized by the Patriot Act, by Intelligence Reform legislation and by the re-authorization of the Patriot Act. In fact, FISA has been updated 50 times since it was enacted in 1978.”from the ACLU website

    do note the fact that FISA has been updated 50 times since it’s inception, and that even the head Justice department official has acknowledged that the statute is technologically neutral

    this is a bit complex for those who aren’t up on some of the details, and so it’s been relatively easy for people to bullshit around the actual facts of the Issue

    like the Fact that W has claimed because of paperwork, there was some kind of time crunch that made it impossible to comply with FISA….pure bullshit, there are provisions which allow the taps to be placed, and then FISA notified within 72 hours, plenty of time to get paperwork done, eh?

    the text of Bush’s radio address.

    compare what W himself claims, with what is actually in the FISA law, as well as in the 4th Amendment of the Constitution

    some can argue the validity of FISA, a different topic and an attempt at distraction, it IS the fucking Law in this case….and even worse, there are admitted cases of warrantless wiretaps on purely domestic calls in clear violation of the Constitution

    imo, in the light of all these Violations how can anyone be expected to trust this Administration in these matters…?

    thanks for putting this Article up here…saved me having to finish editing mine and posting it

    Excelsior?

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    there are provisions which allow the taps to be placed, and then FISA notified within 72 hours, plenty of time to get paperwork done, eh?

    Probably not, actually. If you’re scanning a million phone lines using data mining and have to fill out an individual form for each one, as would be required if you took FISA literally, I’d say it was probably impossible to do it in 72 hours.

    Constitutionally ‘blanket’ search warrants with multiple locations listed are illegal, so filling out one form with all the numbers or that says ‘everyone in the new york area’ would not be permissible.

    Of course, constitutionally getting a search warrant after the fact is illegal in the first place.

    Dave

  • moonraven

    What Bush wants is something that he can claim is RETROACTIVE to when he and his gang of criminals started violating the law.

    Something that would take that impeachment issue forever off the table.

    And he’s threatening to engineer another “terrorist attack” in order to get compliance.

    Legally, what is that called–intimidation, blackmail, extorsion, bullying?

    Bush and his gang are the scum of the earth.

  • Nancy

    MR, you don’t go far enough in your condemnation of BushCo.

  • moonraven

    Nancy,

    Perhaps because I am not an “extremist” like you?

    It’s all be said thousands of times–including by me–but nobody in the US has done ANYTHING about it.