What Every American Should Know -- and Do -- Before the FISA Vote
Tomorrow could mark the beginning of official condoning of warrantless surveillance of law-abiding citizens in the U.S., not to mention foreign nationals. Much of this information has been covered by Glenn Greenwald in the past week.
In the video below, I talk about what every American needs to know -- and do in the next 24 hours -- about the new FISA (Federal Information and Surveillance Act) amendments. The interview, and below partial transcription, answers questions likeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
-I don't have anything to hide. How does this affect me?
-What if this type of surveillance is what has prevented another 9/11 from happening?
-What are common inaccuracies about FISA reported in the media?
Find below how you can make a real impact in less than 60 seconds. Every person counts -- the Senators who will vote are watching the numbers. 41 Senators can block the bill, and it's not too late.
Please do the following: How I ask you to spend 60 seconds
1. ALL AMERICANS: Go to the EFF website and put in your zipcode to find your Senator's phone number. Call them and read the short script on the same page. If no answer, click the link at the bottom of the page to e-mail them.
(Tell others verbally to go to "www.eff.org" and click "take action")
2. OBAMA SUPPORTERS: Go to My.BarackObama.com and join the group requesting he oppose (as he did earlier) the amendment. This takes about 30 seconds. I suggest changing "ListServ" in the bottom right to "Do not receive e-mails." (Tell others verbally to search "obama please vote no" on Google and My.BarackObama.com will be in the top 3 results, currently #1)
Watch the video.
Some Highlights of the interview:
1. Why does the FISA vote matter to normal people who have nothing to hide?
Ordinary citizens who want to live in a democracy -- including those with nothing to hide -- should be concerned about the ability of the government to use private, sensitive personal information to blackmail, manipulate, and intimidate their representatives, journalists and their sources, potential whistleblowers, and activists or dissenters of any sort.
2. Couldn't it be argued that this type of surveillance ability has prevented another 9/11 from happening? Isn't it possible that this type of legislation has saved American lives?
The administration has claimed that is has, but without presenting a single piece of evidence that this is so, even in closed hearings to Senators with clearances on the Intelligence Committee. The FISA court has granted warrants in virtually every request that's been made of it that has any color of helping national security. The administration's decision to bypass that court, illegally, leads to a strong suspicion that they are abusing domestic spying, as some of their predecessors did, in ways that even the secret FISA court would never approve.
3. What are the most important factual inaccuracies about FISA found in the media?
Advocates of the bill take pride that it makes this amended FISA the exclusive basis for overhearing citizens, but that exclusivity is, in fact, in the current 30-year-old FISA bill already. President Bush simply ignored it in bypassing FISA, and there's not reason that he and his successors would not continue to do the same here.
It's been inaccurately stated that if this amendments didn't pass, FISA would expire. This is flatly false. FISA is open-ended and will continue as it already has, adequately for 30 years. What would expire are some blanket surveillance orders authorized last year, which the majority of Democrats, including Senator Obama, voted against.
The current bill does include one useful amendment to FISA, which could be passed with virtually unanimous approval in an afternoon, to allow warrantless interception of foreign-to-foreign communications that happen to pass through the United States. No one opposes this.
Various administration officials have claimed that the requirement of applying for a warrant from the FISA court deprived them of speed and flexibility. This is false. The FISA allows for surveillance to be implemented in an emergency situation before a warrant is sought, and that could undoubtedly be extended with Congressional approval without controversy.
What the administration seeks, and this bill provides, is permanent warrantless surveillance.
4. Let's consider an analogy: police officers have the legal right to stop you if you're going 56 mph in a 55-mph zone, but this right isn't often abused or applied to harass citizens. What makes you think the administration would abuse their surveillance powers if this amendment is approved?
The abuses of surveillance to which governments are drawn are those that keep them in office, used to intimidate and manipulate their rivals, and to avoid debate and dissent on their policies. These are exactly the abuses that the Church Committee discovered in 1975, which had been conducted on a wide-scale by the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and in some cases even earlier, which is what lead to FISA in the first place.
To remove judicial oversight, which this amendment would effectively do, is to invite the same kind of repressive abuse that lead to FISA in the first place.
5. Why would the current administration want this amendment to pass, if not for safety of citizens and prevention of attacks?
Using NSA to spy without judicial oversight or constraint on American citizens provides the infrastructure for dictatorship. George W. Bush has frequently said what other presidents may only have thought: "It would be a heck of a lot easier in a dictatorship, if only I were the dictator."
Other presidents have violated the law and the Constitution in much the same way as Bush, so long as they could do it secretly, but they haven't proclaimed that as a right of their office as Bush, Cheney and their legal advisers have done.
The oath of office they took, along with all members of Congress, was to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. I believe that, in the matters we've been discussing, the Founders had it right, not only for their time but for ours.