a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Celebrate the Constitution this 4th of July!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 4th, 2008

..stop the FISA bill! Don’t let illegal wire-tappers off the hook!

What is it? The FISA Amendments Act — H.R. 6304 — will, as a letter from the ACLU to Senators puts it,

unconstitutionally and unnecessarily [permit] the government to vacuum up Americans’ international communications, without a connection to al Qaeda, terrorism, or even to national security. While there is limited prior review by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the protection afforded by that review is almost completely illusory. H.R. 6304 also grants retroactive immunity to companies that facilitated warrantless wiretapping over the last seven years.

When is the vote?

Tuesday, July 8.

Why is the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) a bad idea?

  • The bill gives telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits for cooperating with George Bush’s illegal warrantless electronic surveillance. That will block one of the only means of finding out exactly what was done, and will set a bad precedent for the future — should companies automatically cooperate with a president even if they suspect what’s being ordered might be illegal? (Some, like Qwest, did not.) As a friend of mine wrote, Retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms is forever. The precedent it would set is also permanent.”
  • The bill is so complicated, vague, and poorly debated that even experts are not sure what additional powers are being conferred to the president. That’s never a good idea — even if you like the current president or the likely next one, you may not feel the same way next year or five years from now.
  • What seems likely is that vast “vacuum cleaner” surveillance protocols are envisioned, with a court only seeing how the protocol is constructed — not who specifically is being surveilled, and why. Goodbye “probable cause” — the foundation of the 4th Amendment, saying the government must have a good, specific reason to search you, your effects, or your communications.
  • That, in turn, will likely ratify an exponential increase in “false positives” — people who seem like they might be a security threat, but turn out not to be. Even if you don’t care about your 4th Amendment rights (i.e., “who cares — I have nothing to hide”), it should concern you that the NSA is wasting its time and the time of other agencies with an explosion of useless leads to follow up.

What can I do?

  • Call your Senators. For citizens of Maryland, the phone numbers are
    • Senator Cardin: 202-224-4524
    • Senator Mikulski: 202-224-4654
  • Call Barack Obama’s presidential campaign: 866-675-2008. Unfortunately, Obama has said he would support the bill — despite pledging last fall to oppose any bill with telecom immunity.
  • Join online “Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right” groups at and facebook. (Both facebook and are easy to join if you haven’t already.) The “” group is already the largest group at the Obama web site.

What might I say in a phone call?

I’m a constituent and I urge you to oppose telecom immunity and the FISA Amendments Act. As a constituent, I am very troubled that during this patriotic holiday season, the Senate appears ready to toss civil liberties and the rule of law out the window, and so I urge you oppose telecom immunity with every vote that you have when the FISA bill comes to the Senate floor on Tuesday, July 8th:

Vote “YES” on the Dodd-Feingold amendment, which would strip telecom immunity from the bill entirely.

Vote “YES” on the Bingaman amendment, which would delay implementation of telecom immunity until after Congress has received the Inspectors General report on the president’s warrantless surveillance program.

Vote “NO” on the cloture motion to end debate on the FAA,

And finally, vote “NO” on the FISA Amendments Act, an unconstitutional and dangerous bill that would radically expand the president’s spying powers and immunize the companies that helped him break the law.

(Via Electronic Freedom Foundation)

Where can I learn more about this?

Thanks for visiting! Please join the fight.

4 Responses to “Celebrate the Constitution this 4th of July!”

  1. Nell Says:

    What an outstanding roundup! Thanks; will be linking madly tomorrow.

  2. janinsanfran Says:

    Thanks for this — simple and clear.

    And why oh why do I have to have Diane Feinstein for a Senator? But you probably say that about Mikulski…

  3. Rebecca Gordon Says:

    Excellent, to the point, and necessary. As Jan says, we’re stuck with difficult senators; they always look better to the rest of the country, don’t they.

    On a personal note, please pass on my email address to Crickey. I don’t seem to have a current one for her, and I miss her.

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thanks, all; it felt a little cobbled together (did it in the early AM before suiting up for July 4th), so I’m glad it seems useful to others. Mikulski is pretty disappointing on this, I’ve started a kind of “stamp collection” of her e-mails to me on this (11/5/07, 2/20/08).

    I just shared your e-mail address, Rebecca, Crickey will be very glad to get it.

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