Friday, February 29, 2008

Coming back to FISA...

I stated in my last post that I would spend some time discussing the dangers of the proposed amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Last year, Congress passed the Protect America Act, which expired a couple of weeks ago. At the beginning of February, the Senate voted to make the Act permanent. As discussed in a previous post, the Act provides protection for telecommunications companies assisting in the NSA Domestic Surveillance Program by substituting the Federal Government for those companies in litigation against them over the program. Making this law permanent would insulate the federal government, permanently, from repeated violations of the Fourth Amendment. The defense oriented rhetoric coming from the Whitehouse is remarkably abhorrent on this issue, particularly in regard to amendments to FISA.

I find it very interesting that this rhetoric specifically states that the proposed bill would permit the government to use third parties to assist in foreign intelligence gathering without the threat of reprisal. I am amused that the focus is on avoiding the need to obtain court orders for foreign surveillance. Interestingly, FISA doesn't restrict the ability of the President to order wire taps on targets outside of the country. Originally, FISA operated as a check to verify that the President wasn't doing something in violation of an international treaty or the US Constitution. The notion that the purpose of the bill is to empower foreign intelligence gathering is downright absurd. The President already has this power, so an expansion of FISA isn't necessary. Moreover, the only reason to propose these amendments is to side-step the fourth amendment. If the purpose is really to target foreign targets, why is the NSA tapping the phone lines of everyday Americans? Watching Bob Smith on the corner has nothing to do with catching Osama Bin Laden. The administration may argue that this is necessary to root out homegrown terrorism, an fear mongering buzz word recently in the news, however, this kind of problem has always been considered a problem for law enforcement. This new encroachment into personal privacy takes a step well beyond the historical roles for the Federal Government.

The worst part of this whole situation, though, is the Whitehouse's insistence on pursuing domestic surveillance regardless of having Constitutional or Legislative authority.

The House of Representatives was correct in letting this bill die. It should never be revived either. Passage of this bill will only verify for the President that he can continue to violate the Constitution without fear of retribution. Hopefully, the 2008 Presidential election will provide some form of restitution to the American people by electing a candidate who won't so willingly discharge his constitutional oath. If this bill is to pass, it would provide an ample basis to pursue impeachment as the President would be in clear violation of his oath by enforcing a law that clearly abrogates the Constitutional restrictions of the Fourth Amendment.

Impeach the President, and replace any member of Congress who continues to permit such gross violations of the supreme law of the land. That is what American citizens deserve to see happen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

FISA and the slide towards totalitarianism

I have stayed out of this fray this week largely because I wanted to see how things would develop after the Senate decided to authorize the amendments to FISA, also known as the Protect America Act. While I will have a more detailed review of the Senate's vote in my next post, I want to use this post to comment on the President's reaction to the resistance by House Democrats to the Senate's measure. For more on the legal ramifications of this proposed law, see my previous posts on the subject.

For the record, the President stated:

They'll have to ask themselves, 'Do you trust the intelligence community more than you trust Democrats who are beholden to their left-wing?' And that's the debate that this country is going to have.


The American people will find it baffling that on a day that House leaders are trying to put off passing critical legislation to keep us safer from the threat of foreign terrorists overseas, they are spending scarce time to become the first congress in history to bring contempt charges against a president's chief of staff and lawyer. ... The 'people's House' should reflect the priorities of the American people, not the fantasies of left-wing bloggers.

I find both of these comments repugnant. In the last 7 Years we have grown accustom to random statements of absolute incompetence from Mr. Bush, however, this one in particular takes the cake.

Mr. Bush, the amendment to FISA you advocate is the most liberal and violent act of proposed legislative fiat seen in this country since the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917. This Bill would permit the Federal Government to tap the phone of any American citizen without the need for probable cause or a warrant. This law would do away with individual privacy on a substantive level. Moreover, this wholesale assault on civil liberties is far from the conservative values to which you claim to ascribe.

Mr. President, it is not the "left-wing bloggers" who are to blame here, it is yourself. This brazen attempt to subvert the Constitution, expand executive police power, and install yourself as a defacto dictator is an act so contrary to the notion of American Democracy as envisioned by this Country's founders that it is virtually impossible for you to continue to call yourself a conservative let alone a United States Citizen. The only kind of conservative you can rightly call yourself, Mr. Bush, is a fascist. You should be ashamed at yourself for rattling the saber of fear at the American people under the auspice of national security. Clearly, this is an act of Presidential insecurity, one that demonstrates how callow you and your administration has truly become it comes to dealing with the American people and your artificially inflated threat of terrorism. How dare you impugn those who are exercising their right to speak and inform the public of exactly how despicable these acts are and the effect they will have on the average American.

Merely Advocating for this kind of law is a flagrant violation of your oath of office. You, sir, should be ashamed of even considering imposing such an unconstitutional amendment on a law that originally operated well within the constitutionally founded notion of checks and balances. At this point, I call for your resignation, and the resignation of the Vice President, or for Congress to take the necessary steps to impeach you and the Vice President for a violation of your oath. A person supporting such an un-American ideology does not deserve to sit at the helm of the Executive branch of this government nor does he or she deserve the support of the electorate.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

One More Shot at FISA...

I am posting the following link from the ACLU on FISA. I posted last week about the dangers of the so-called "Protect America" Act. It is really more like the "Protect Corrupt Despotic Politicians From Prosecution" Act. Read up, be aware, CALL YOUR CONGRESSMEN!

One side note, the statement about the purpose of FISA isn't entirely accurate. At its core, the original purpose of FISA was to restrict the ability of the President to wire-tap phones outside of the United States, not wire-tap Americans. However, earlier amendments to FISA made it apply to Americans when it never had before. FISA never applied to Americans before because that is supposed to be the role of the Fourth Amendment. At the very least, you can see how far we have come already, and why further amendments to this bill need to end.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Rights and Telecom Immunity...

Recently, the President and even the Vice President have been stumping for a bill that would provide retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who assisted the NSA Domestic Surveillance Program. To be clear, this portion of the proposed FISA amendment substitutes the federal government for a telecommunications company in civil law suits brought by plaintiffs for the telecommunications company's participation in the Warrantless Surveillance program. However, the proposed amendment also permits the application of any and all defenses, privileges, and immunities available to the federal government. The net result of substituting the Federal Government for telecommunications companies is to permit the Federal Government to utilize the "state's secrets" privilege to bar further litigation of cases that would restrict otherwise unconstitutional action by the executive branch via organizations like the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

There are other beneficial consequences to these proposed amendments, they effectively insulate the present leaders of the executive branch from future prosecution for violations of civil liberties and war crimes by preventing evidence of their wrong doing from coming to life. The fact of the matter remains that the leaders of our country are concerned with covering their own behinds. Keith Olbermann's special comment elaborates on this point. The special comment, though, doesn't really get at the meat of the issue. FISA exists, and has existed since the Nixon administration. The purpose of FISA was to put a limitation on the Executive's ability to spy on individuals outside of the United States. The 2003 amendments to FISA undercut this purpose by unconstitutionally permitting the FISA courts to hear petitions by the Federal Government to tap American Citizens on American soil, something regularly left to a neutral magistrate under the Fourth Amendment. Congress has already rendered FISA useless in pursuing its original purpose.

What is most important about this situation is the realization that telecommunications immunity amendment to FISA only serves to further insulate the brazenly unconstitutional actions of the President and his minions. Pragmatically, this bill would rubber stamp the domestic surveillance program under the law, making it legal for the government to disregard the Constitution. This will further progress the Fascist shift currently occurring in the United States.

If this law passes, we can be sure that Big Brother will be listening, regardless if you have a right for them not to be.