Civil Liberties: Restoring the Law
Civil Liberties: Restoring the Law
The Restore Act would begin to bring back into balance the need for security and liberty in the government's surveillance efforts.
|OCTOBER 10, 2007||by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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| CIVIL LIBERTIES
Restoring the Law
Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) introduced the Restore Act, a bill aimed at bringing back into balance the need for security and liberty in the government’s surveillance efforts. Indeed, there is much to restore after the Bush administration and Congress swiftly eviscerated many of the central oversight and warrant requirements contained in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) with the passage of the Protect America Act (PAA) just prior to the August recess. The PAA provided an “unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers,” essentially allowing the administration to conduct temporary “oversight-free surveillance” on individuals who are not suspected of being terrorists. The Restore Act is a “major step in the right direction” because it requires “that electronic surveillance programs be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court,” mandates that “FISA warrants be obtained when the administration wants to undertake surveillance of persons in the U.S.,” and ensures “FISA is the exclusive means of electronic surveillance and that no modifications can be made without express legal authorization.”
‘BLANKET’ ORDER: “If the government wants to eavesdrop on a foreign target or group of targets located outside the United States, and there is a possibility they will be communicating with Americans, the government can get an ‘umbrella’ or ‘blanket’ court order for up to one year.” In a statement issued yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressed concern about this provision, calling it a “major flaw” and urging Congress to “include individual warrants for Americans.” Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence panel, introduced the “FISA Modernization Bill of 2007” yesterday which eliminates the “blanket” warrants provision. While a “blanket” order does not and cannot provide the same level of protection for the international communications of innocent Americans as can an individualized order, the Restore Act substantially reduces the likelihood that the government will abuse its powers by installing layers of checks and balances. The bill would authorize court reviews of how the agencies choose their targets, “minimiz[e]” irrelevant information, and establish guidelines to make sure traditional warrants are being obtained when necessary.
TELECOM IMMUNITY: The Restore Act does not provide retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the administration’s warrantless surveillance. “The Bush administration, urged by the telecommunication industry, is pushing hard for Congress to include immunity for past actions in any package to protect them from a series of civil suits.” The pending lawsuits fault the telcom companies for participating “in what amounted to illegal eavesdropping.” For years, many telecom giants, including AT&T, gave the National Security Agency “direct access to their databases of communications records” at a time when the administration was carrying out a secret program that violated the FISA law. Under the Stored Communications Act, the telecom companies could suffer a $1,000 penalty for each violation, making the industry liable for tens of billions of dollars. Immunity would absolve the companies of their wrongdoing, but more importantly, as Reason magazine’s Julian Sanchez has noted, “[I]f they’re immune from liability after the fact, then they have no motivation to do anything but comply [with the administration’s demands].” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that telecom immunity should hinge on the administration’s complicity in turning over the records showing the utilities’ role in the eavesdropping. Without the records, “to give immunity at this point in time would be a blind immunity,” Hoyer said.
By a vote of 375-3, the House passed the War Profiteering Prevention Act yesterday, which makes “overcharging in order to defraud or profit excessively from war, military action, or reconstruction efforts…a felony.”
ALABAMA: Alabama now boasts its “first openly gay man elected to public office.”
WASHINGTON: “Seattle now recycles 44 percent of its trash, compared with the national average of around 30 percent.” Its goal is to reach 72 percent by 2025.
MISSISSIPPI: Federal government may buy 17,000 coastal homes to create a “vast hurricane protection zone,” raising anxieties that it could destroy the lives of residents struggling to rebuild after Katrina.
THINK PROGRESS: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA): Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is “an American hero just like Ollie North was.”
BRAD BLOG: Justice Department Voting Rights chief: minority voters “don’t become elderly, they die first.”
EZRA KLEIN: Conservatives complain about a 12-year old supporting SCHIP, but were silent about the use of a child in a 2004 campaign ad supporting President Bush.
SADLY NO: Debunking the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg’s defense of his claim that conservatives never question the patriotism of liberals.
“I don’t think they’ve gotten anything done.”
“The House last week held its 943rd roll call vote of the year, breaking the previous record of 942 votes, a mark set in 1978. … Last year, the Republican controlled House held 543 votes.”
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