When Senator Claire McCaskill was asked by constituents why she voted for the FISA overhaul in early August, she said the following in a form letter:
It is important to recognize that this legislation is a temporary fix to provide our intelligence community with the most immediate tools needed to protect our country – it will be in place for only six months, and it cannot be renewed before it is thoroughly reviewed and authorized by Congress. This gives us six months to create a more acceptable permanent intelligence collection process that that allows us to effectively monitor terrorist communications overseas while also protecting the privacy of law-abiding American citizens. I can assure you I will be one of the Senators working hard to re-establish the constitutional protections that have been eroded by this President and this temporary FISA legislation.
The House Democratic leadership has introduced a bill, the RESTORE Act, that supposedly does just that. To review, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 was supposed to allow the executive branch some flexibility in surveilling Americans suspected of spying, while at the same time keeping the executive branch in check with a special court to review all warrants. For some reason, the Bush Administration decided that in many cases it was no longer necessary to consult with the FISA court, that no warrant was necessary to spy on American citizens. For reasons even more unfathomable to me, Congress not only avoided censuring the administration, but in August they actually passed a bill to grant legality to what Bush was doing! Under Democratic leadership!
Luckily, the measure sunsets in February, which leads us to where we are now. I imagine that the RESTORE Act was introduced by House Democrats in order to build up steam to head off a compromise bill currently being negotiated by our very own Senator Kit Bond. And as Glenn Greenwald notes, it’s not without good points, including compelling the Bush Administration to detail all electronic surveillance conducted without a warrant since Sept. 11, 2001. The bill also does NOT offer immunity to the telecom industry for their acquiescence in the illegal wiretapping. Unfortunately, there is one big problem, and that’s the allowance of “blanket” or “basket” warrants, which doesn’t require the government to narrow the target of the surveillance to a single person. In other words, it practically contradicts the idea of a warrant.
This is important. You need to pick up your phone and call your representatives RIGHT NOW and tell them the following:
1) Only pass a FISA Modernization Bill, such as the one introduced by Representative Rush Holt, that does NOT authorize blanket warrants. Blanket or basket warrants allow the government to suck up telephone calls and e-mails from unrelated individuals.
2) Do NOT give telecommunications companies or Bush Administration officials immunity for possible illegal acts in the last several years. There’s no need to reward them for doing the wrong thing in the past. And if they’ve supposedly done nothing wrong, why do they need immunity?
To find the contact info for your representatives in Congress, click here. Keep it to the point and polite but firm.
Make some noise, people!
UPDATE: I just got word that the draft of the Senate bill contains a provision for telecom immunity. Make sure McCaskill knows that this is NOT acceptable.