Current Washington DC Pastime…Shredding the 4th Amendment | November 29, 2007

And in the US Senate, debate continues about shredding what’s left of the 4th Amendment, oh, excuse me, I meant debate about the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, [FISA….] silly me! The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office had this to say on Firedoglake.com {http://www.firedoglake.com/2007/11/29/}

Hello everybody!

As you all probably know, recently the, the House passed the “RESTORE Act” on partisan lines. The bill made some improvements in the “Protect America Act” that was rushed through Congress in August. Most importantly, it reasserted the intelligence court’s role in approving surveillance before it takes place — a lot of the improvement was due to the concerted efforts of the Progressive Caucus, and Congressman Rush Holt, bolstered by grassroots and netroots pressure.

The RESTORE ACT had no telecom immunity provisions whatsoever.

The ACLU still had concerns, however, with the so-called “basket warrant” structure of the bill. The House bill allows the FISA Court to issue year long programmatic orders – that identify neither the target nor the facilities to be tapped. We believe this raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns, as “general” or “program” warrants have long been rejected by the courts.

In the Senate, the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees have reported out two very different bills. The Intelligence bill largely makes the “Protect America Act” permanent. The only role for the court is after mass surveillance has begun, and then its only involvement is to approve the procedures by which the surveillance will be conducted. It also allows the Attorney General to single-handedly dismiss any pending case against a communication service provider who turned over customer info since 9/11. In other words, it gives immunity to the phone companies.

The Judiciary bill is better in two very important respects. First, it does not provide any immunity for the telecoms. Second, it includes a very important caveat inserted by Sen. Feingold – that surveillance can only collect communications to which at least one party is a “specific individual target.” This seemingly prevents the government from conducting mass, untargeted collection allowed by the House bill and the Senate Intel bill.

Next week, probably toward the end of the week, the Senate will take up FISA, although we have not been given a date certain. Procedurally, the Intelligence bill is the base bill – the Judiciary bill is pending as a substitute. Of course, both can be amended (and filibustered).

Senator Dodd among others has said he will filibuster any bill with telecom immunity. Well, his first chance comes on the Motion to Proceed. He’s got to come to the floor and stay there. Reid will no doubt file cloture — which is the mechanism to end a filibuster. A vote on the cloture motion happens 36 hours after filing. Unless Dodd leaves the floor for any reason in which case Reid can quickly bring an end to the process.

So, what’s important now is to ensure that Dodd has help in sustaining the filibuster and in voting against cloture. We’ve heard from some other Dems that they oppose immunity but from very few that they will actually try to stop a bill. Voices from constituents are really important to put pressure on Senators to join the filibuster.


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