Let’s have ourselves a little history lesson. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act became law in 1978. It was intended to regulate searches and surveillance on sources of foreign intelligence in order to protect American citizens from having their civil rights infringed on. How was it to work?
FISA provides two documents for the authorization of surveillance. First, FISA allows the Justice Department to obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) before or up to 72 hours after the beginning of the surveillance. FISA authorizes a FISC judge to issue a warrant for the electronic cameras if “there is probable cause to believe that… the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” 50 U.S.C. §1805(a)(3). Second, FISA permits the President or his delegate to authorize warrantless surveillance for the collection of foreign intelligence if “there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party”. 50 U.S.C. §1802(a)(1).
A lot of civil libertarians were pretty upset over this. After all, we’re talking about a secret court authorizing secret surveillance, and the Justice Department didn’t even have to wait for the court to authorize their activities before they started.
Fast forward to 2001, when (say it with me) September 11 changed everything.
The White House put through an executive order authorizing the NSA to begin tapping phone calls without either gaining permission from the FISC in advance, or even letting them know about it before the 72 hour deadline. Why? Apparently, it was because September 11 changed everything. The White House felt that they needed to be able to move quickly against threats, and that FISA was just too slow and clumsy to keep up with them. They never really explained why a law that allowed them to go ahead and bug people and then get permission three days later was too slow, but it was probably just because, you know, September 11 changed everything.
On to August of 2006:
On August 17, 2006 U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled in ACLU v. NSA that the Terrorist Surveillance Program was unconstitutional under the Fourth and First Amendments and enjoined the NSA from using the program to conduct electronic surveillance “in contravention of [FISA or Title III]“.In her ruling, she wrote:
The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments, has indisputably violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well.
Of course, the judge failed to take into account that September 11 changed everything.
So we found ourselves in a situation where the executive branch requested that the legislature clarify FISA — basically to give them more latitude, by allowing the Attorney General to make the final decision as to whether surveillance was justified in each case. But the Democrats took the majority (albeit a narrow one) in both houses of Congress last year. Of course, they would fight this effort.
Then again, this is the same Democratic majority that folded on Bush’s funding request for the war in Iraq, despite the fact that they were swept into office on a wave of dissatisfaction and anger over Bush and his war. In other words, the public gave them the majority to stop Bush.
Well, they’ve done it again. First the Senate, and then the House voted to approve Bush’s plan. The only compromise, if you can call it that, is that in six months they’re going to revisit the issue. In other words, in six months they’ll wimp out and approve this crap all over again.
Do they not understand what’s going on here? Their majority isn’t big enough to overturn a presidential veto. I get that. But their majority is big enough to stop Bush’s programs from being approved. When he says they’re endangering Americans and emboldening the enemy (because September 11 changed everything), they have to clearly and loudly respond by stating that he is lying in order to keep us afraid so that he can continue to strip away what’s left of our civil rights. They mustn’t give him an inch.
So they just roll over and let him have everything. Fucking everything.
Some people say the Democrats are doing this in order to make it clear that this is Bush’s war, thus giving them a political advantage in next year’s election. Bullshit. Do they give a damn about the country at all? You don’t stand by and let these people eviscerate the Constitution in order to have something to put in your negative ads.
Rush D. Holt, a representative from New Jersey, is quoted as follows:
I’m not comfortable suspending the constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.
I can’t understand how a single member of the Democratic party could vote for this. It’s absolutely disgusting, and folding because of fear mongering and a threat to have your vacation delayed is just cowardly.
To hell with them.