Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Examining the FISA Bill

The Real News Network
presents this analysis by Republican constitutional lawyer, Bruce Fein of the proposed modifications to the FISA bill (AKA "The Protect America Act") and the resulting controversy, as it has been going through congress. Anybody that has been following Glenn Greenwald's excellent coverage of this issue knows how corrupt the situation has become. Bruce Fein does an excellent job of explaining this and also pointing out the failures, if not outright compliance, by people like speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi to stop the administration's lawless posture.

The "short" version:

The Bush Administration asked companies like AT&T and Verizon to open up their access to American electronic communications of all kinds, with people outside the country, without warrants. Millions of calls and emails and internet hits were tapped by the government over a 2 or 3 year period with no oversight. If you spoke with or emailed someone outside America, it might have been you.

Some companies, such as Quest, refused because their team of lawyers told them it was grossly illegal. This cost them millions in government contracts. This wiretapping without warrants is a violation of our right to privacy and the companies are now being sued for breaking the law, which is very clear about what is required in these situations. Meanwhile, the law of the land which has protected us from both terrorists AND government abuses is up for "modification" in congress. Dick Cheney has pulled some allies together in congress to get a provision put into that new law that these telecommunication companies should be immune from any legal action as a result of their wiretapping on behalf of the government.

This immunity would serve two purposes: It protects AT&T and others from millions, maybe billions, worth of lawsuits by citizens who'se rights were violated. It also prevents any investigation at all into exactly what was going on during all that wiretapping and who actually got tapped. If the government was good and appropriate with it's power, we will never know. If the government grossly abused it's power, we will never know. The whole thing would be completely sealed.

The administration and it's allies claim is that these lawsuits would expose national security secrets to our enemies in the public record and that it would discourage companies from cooperating with the government in the future, which would, in turn, help the terrorists win. Both of these claims are false. The existing law that has been on the books all these years allowed trials with sensitive evidence to be tried in special courts that were designed specifically to protect that evidence. Companies like AT&T are also not in a position to refuse a legal request by the government for wiretaps with a warrant. THAT would be break the law. These warrants could also be obtained within 72 hours AFTER the tap took place, so there is no concern about expediency which is another administration claim. We have always been able to spy on terrorists overseas talking to people in America. The modifications needed because of technology were very minor and, like a corrupt auto mechanic, the administration made a bunch of bogus claims and jacked up the price, in liberty, that we must now all pay.

This is called "Trust Me Government." The exact kind of thing that every Republican I know has been against for as long as I have known them. Yet there they are, the people who came into power promising that scariest thing they could ever here was "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" telling us to trust the government, it's here to help. This time, though, it isn't a social worker or a welfare check. It is guys with headphones, laptops and digital recorders sitting in an AT&T hub in San Fransisco.

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