Unconstitutional FISA Bill Becomes Law

Unconstitutional FISA Bill Becomes Law

On July 10, President Bush signed into law the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act, which gives the Bush administration virtually unchecked powers to monitor Americans' international phone calls and emails, and grants immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally aided in the president’s warrantless wiretapping program.

While we may have lost this round, the fight is far from over. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a broad coalition of plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the law. In addition, Democratic leaders have promised to revisit the issues surrounding the FISA Amendments Act during the 2009 debate over reauthorization of USA Patriot Act provisions. The ACLU will be at the forefront of this debate.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), born after the Watergate scandal, establishes how the government can secretly eavesdrop on Americans in their own country in intelligence investigations. It was originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information involving communications with "agents of foreign powers."

On July 10, 2008, President Bush signed the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), supposedly aimed at “updating” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Unfortunately, the law meant to “update” FISA instead gutted the original law by eviscerating the role of the judicial oversight in government surveillance. The law also gave sweeping immunity to the telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration’s unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program by handing over access to our communications without a warrant. On the same day the FAA was signed into law, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

This is not the first time that Congress has undermined FISA. The USA Patriot Act, passed in 2001 and re-authorized in 2006, amended FISA to make it easier for the government to obtain the personal records of ordinary Americans from libraries and Internet Service Providers, even when they are not suspected of having connections to terrorism.

Congressional leadership has promised to address the issues surrounding the FISA Amendments Act before it sunsets in 2012 during the 2009 debate over reauthorization of USA Patriot Act provisions. Until then, the ACLU will fight in the courts to block the law from taking effect.

More information about the ACLU’s lawsuit to block the FAA is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/faa

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