Wednesday, June 11, 2008

FISA revision revisited

By Carol Gee

Surveillance news alerts were most recently published here on May 21. It is time again for an update; and it may be time to say no to Congress again. The White House claims that something must be done to immunize the telecommunications companies who have been assisting with foreign and domestic surveillance using warrantless wiretaps. Revisions to FISA legislation were made in August of 2007 with the passage of the Protect America Act. Current authorities in use by the National Security Agency surveillance programs will expire in August of 2008. The House leadership is currently attempting to reach a deal on new legislation, having rejected the Senate version that is acceptable to the White House.

Leading the opposition, and holding their annual membership conference just this week and last, the "ACLU Says No Deal on an Unconstitutional FISA Compromise" (6/5/2008) from their website. In contrast, it appears that Senator John McCain is again willing to be a willing ally for our current president (OCP), who wants Congress to grant retroactive immunity for facilitating illegal spying on Americans.

"McCain's Ties To Telecoms Questioned After Wiretapping Flip-Flop" is the story by Ryan Singel, (6/9/08) at Wired - Threat Level. This is not the first instance of McCain switching positions in order to appeal to his traditional Republican base. (Glenn Greenwald, as usual, has the complete story on this matter. And one of his readers put together a very interesting FISA Wiki). To quote Wired:

If you've been wondering where all the telecom lobbyists went to lick their wounds after the House rejected retroactive immunity for wiretapping, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says it's found a bunch of them smack dab in the middle of John McCain's presidential campaign organization.

The group suggested Friday that the swell of current and former telecom lobbyists in the McCain camp might have something to do with the candidate's recent reversal on the legality of warrantless wiretapping. His most recent position "reads a lot like the talking points that a telecom lobbyist might employ," writes EFF senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl.

McCain has long supported amnesty for telecoms who cooperated with Bush's warrantless domestic spying, but until recently questioned the legality of the program. After zig-zagging on the issue over the last few weeks, he eventually settled on a position nearly identical to President Bush's -- that presidential war-making powers trump the law when it comes to warrantless wiretapping.

Earlier FISA legislation news written by Andrew Tilghman - June 4, 2008, at TPM Muckraker, intimates that there may be a Deal in the Works for FISA Law. Time after time, Congressional Democrats have caved in to pressure from OCP and members of his administration. Let us hope this is not the case in this instance. Activists may again be called upon to shore up wavering Democrats who fear being called unpatriotic. To quote:

House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) may have agreed to a compromise on a deal to rewrite the nation's electronic surveillance laws.

A report in Congress Daily says Reyes is "fine" with the Republican-brokered deal that would "leave it up to the secret FISA court to grant retroactive legal immunity" to telecoms that helped the Bush administration's warrantless conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens.

An even earlier warrantless wiretapping post by Ryan Singel, from Wired - Threat Level (5/29/08) is titled, "Spy Bill 'Compromise' Still Gives Amnesty to Telcoms, But Adds Trappings of Justice." In this instance compromise does not require giving in to the administration's unremitting lies, fear mongering and pressure. Stay tuned. To quote:

House and Senate leaders are still bargaining over how far to expand the government's domestic spying powers and whether to grant retroactive legal amnesty to companies that violated federal privacy laws by helping the government spy on Americans.

But if a proposal from the top Republican from the Senate Intelligence committee is any indicator, telecom amnesty would be all but assured in any final bill.

Last Thursday, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Missouri) announced his version of a compromise (.pdf), which would move 40 or so lawsuits facing telecoms accused of helping the government warrantlessly spy on Americans to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Bond has been working with Rep. Steny Hoyer, from the House leadership, who has been a vocal opponent of telecom amnesty.

Meanwhile other countries made the news recently with their own spy stories. Dandelion Salad's Stephen Lendman wrote (6/9/08) that "Chavez [is] revising, not revoking Venezuela's new intelligence law." To quote:

Over the weekend, Chavez showed his mettle as a democratic leader. He acknowledged “errors” in the newly enacted Law on Intelligence and Counterintelligence and will fix them to assure it fully complies with Venezuela’s Constitution.

He gave examples and cited Article 16 that cites the possibility of prison terms for persons not cooperating with intelligence services. It’s a “mistake,” said Chavez and “not a small (one).” The new intelligence services won’t oblige anyone to inform on others. Doing so is “overstepping,” and “I assume responsibility” for the error and will fix it.

Germany is worried that Russia is involved in widespread industrial espionage, according to The Middle East Times story which says: "The German government has accused foreign intelligence services -- blaming mainly Russian agents -- of having spied on German companies."

I will regularly focus on FISA issues raising civil liberties questions. The next post will come Saturday.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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