October 08, 2007

National inSecurity

Why even play this game? The Democrats are proposing next week a sweeping bill to give surveillance powers to the Administration. Granted, the laws are more restrictive than those passed in August. Still, it's clearly a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And that's only the surveillance part of the bill.

The bill would require the Justice Department inspector general to audit the use of the umbrella warrant and issue quarterly reports to a special FISA court and to Congress, according to congressional aides involved in drafting the legislation. It would clarify that no court order is required for intercepting communications between people overseas that are routed through the United States. It would specify that the collections of e-mails and phone calls could come only from communications service providers -- as opposed to hospitals, libraries or advocacy groups. And it would require a court order when the government is seeking communications of a person inside the United States, but only if that person is the target.

A target is defined as a person, group, cell or government of interest to a foreign intelligence investigation.

"Democrats have made huge strides in making improvements over the Protect America Act," said Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "Yet we think that the Constitution requires as a minimum that an individualized warrant is required whenever an American's communications are targeted. This is going to be the big sticking point."

Democrats are wary of being called weak on national security. That concern is exacerbated by the government's withholding of details on its surveillance activities that would enable Congress to gauge whether expanded powers are needed, said Mark Agrast, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The Administration also wants blanket immunity to telecom companies that aided the Administration in their illegal surveillance...

The bill would not include a key administrative objective: immunity for telecommunications firms facing lawsuits in connection with the administration's post-Sept. 11 surveillance program. House Democrats have said that as long as the administration withholds requested documents explaining the basis for the warrantless surveillance program, they cannot consider immunity for firms alleged to have facilitated it.

The White House on Friday evening told the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence and judiciary committees that it would put together that information by Oct. 22 but would not say when or whether it would make the information available to lawmakers.

"We have told the White House for weeks that the House plans to consider FISA legislation on October 17," said a senior Democratic congressional aide involved in the White House negotiations. "How can members of Congress consider any proposal for immunity if the documents relating to the company's conduct aren't even being assembled by White House lawyers until October 22?"

Good question... why not let the existing law stand instead of writing a law that violates the Fourth Amendment? Why buy into the R frame on national security? Why not actually fight this and make the R's look like they are taking people's rights (which is exactly what they are doing)?

In the Senate, Democrats are working with Republican colleagues on a bill to be introduced this month that probably will contain some form of relief for telecom companies -- an issue that was sidestepped in August to help win passage of the Protect America Act.

Four possibilities are being discussed, said a Senate aide familiar with the discussions. The broadest would be blanket immunity, which would immunize anyone, including government officials, who had anything to do with any surveillance program. That is the approach the government favors and is strongly opposed by civil liberties advocates.

The second is targeted immunity, in which companies that can prove they were acting in good faith would be granted immunity from prosecution. The third is substitution, in which the government would replace the defendant in the lawsuit. Finally, there is indemnification. The cases would proceed through the court system, and if there were financial penalties, the government would assume them, the aide said.

Aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the record.

How about this... MASSIVE, billion dollar penalties for companies that complied, regardless of the reason. It's the only way to punish these entities for not respecting the privacy of their customers. Further, it's only way to keep this from happening again.

Adding a new perspective on the debate, a group of prominent computer scientists from organizations including Sun Microsystems, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania recently warned that the current emergency law opens doors to the interception of purely domestic communications without a warrant. The computer scientists are concerned that the government's actions could threaten the privacy and security of U.S. communications.

Administration officials have testified that any information gathered that involves an American who is not a target will be "minimized" -- their identities blacked out -- so that their privacy is protected.

Oh, sure. Just 'trust us'. Yeah, not so much.

Check out Somervell County Salon for their take...

Posted by mcblogger at October 8, 2007 04:03 PM

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