Modernising FISA

From Another Day in the Empire

Modernizing the Destruction of the Fourth
Friday May 11th 2007, 9:26 pm

Go to Google News search and type in the following: “FISA Modernization Act.” It will return 10 meager results, only but one offered by the corporate media. Of course, you should not be surprised.

Bush and the neocons want to deep six FISA, itself a violation of the Fourth Amendment, not that it matters as the Fourth died an ignoble death some time ago. But even FISA is not acceptable to the authoritarian psychopaths running the government. Even as “the administration asks Congress to expand its leeway under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the White House continues to insist on the president’s inherent power to disregard even his preferred version of that law. No wonder J. Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, received a skeptical reception from Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee when he testified last week in favor of ‘modernizing’ FISA,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

It figures, as well, that a Los Angeles Times op-ed didn’t really find McConnell’s suggestions abhorrent. “But some of what McConnell requested makes sense. The threat of domestic terrorist attack does require greater flexibility, as do changes in technology. FISA was enacted at a time when most international communications traveled by radio or satellite and thus were outside the law’s regulation of wire transmissions; today, those same communications move along fiber-optic cables. Likewise, a court order should not be required just because a phone call or e-mail from one foreign location to another happens to pass through the United States.”

Of course, “modernizing” FISA has nothing to do with a “domestic terrorist attack.” It has to do with surveilling the public at large.

Now for the shell game. It appears there are two versions of this bill—a secret one and yet another sanitized version for public consumption. “The ‘unclassified’ version of this legislation was released only after numerous protests by several organizations with which we work in coalition,” notes Downsize DC. “Our coalition partners have been invited to make ’statements’ about this ‘unclassified’ version but have not been afforded an opportunity to rebut the secret testimony of the Bush administration. How could they, it’s secret.”

In regard to the details:

All we know is that the bill deals with what the Executive Branch can and cannot do with regard to spying—particularly on the American people. And we’re a lot less sure about the “cannot” part than we are about the “can” aspects of this. In other words, this bill may legalize widespread spying on Americans by the President of the United States.

Did you think the Democrats were going to protect you against the lawless Bush administration? You should have heard Intelligence Committee Chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller, at the “public” portion of their hearings. He didn’t seem resolved to hold the administration accountable for its past civil liberties violations. His was a voice of bi-partisan reconciliation with government lawlessness.

And why not? The Democrats like power too. Perhaps they like the fact that if they give more power to Bush now, they’ll get to use that power too when they get their turn at the wheel, which they expect to happen soon.

The code name for this bill seems to be the “FISA Modernization Act.” The old, supposedly primitive, version of the FISA law at least provided some tissue-thin protections against government spying on innocent Americans. We would prefer NOT to have those protections “modernized” out of existence, thank you very much.

Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida almost reached the promised land, but not quite: “The trick is, we want to go after the bad guys. We want to get the information that we need, but we’re a nation of laws and we want to prevent the buildup of a dictator who takes the law into his own hands, saying I don’t like that. So now we have to find the balance.”

Bill, the balance is in the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

No tricks, just simple, easily understood language.

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