‘Compromise’ spying bill surrenders American rights
The House has approved a new surveillance law that protects telecommunications companies from lawsuits.
IN approving a sweeping compromise on the rewrite of an electronic surveillance law, the U.S. House has also compromised privacy rights of Americans and denied citizens' pursuit of legal remedies, which had been the only avenue left to examine the full extent of the Bush administration's outlaw wiretapping program.
The measure effectively shields telecommunications companies from claims that they violated customer's rights by aiding the government in its warrantless eavesdropping program.
Congress seems unable to grasp the concept that protecting Americans' civil liberties and pursuing terrorism suspects are not mutually exclusive undertakings. The Senate, which is expected to take up the bill this week, should at least remove the clause that gives telcoms immunity.
Hawaii Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono voted against the legislation that directs a federal district court to dismiss about 40 lawsuits filed by groups and individuals alleging the government illegally monitored their phone calls and e-mail. As long as the telcoms can simply show they received presidential orders assuring them the spying was legal -- which it wasn't -- they will not be held liable.
Bush threatened to veto any bill that did not protect the companies in the program that ran for nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks, without permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That's because the lawsuits would have exposed the scope by which the administration violated the law and would have held the government accountable.
Though House leaders contend the new law will prevent the government from again eavesdropping and tracking electronic communications illegally, nothing restrains a president from maintaining that executive powers supersede laws because the lawsuits challenging Bush's actions will not be allowed to proceed and a court ruling on the constitutional issues will not be rendered.
The government can still start wiretaps and conduct surveillance for a week without the court's approval if it deems "important intelligence" could be missed. It would have to seek permission within that time, but would be allowed to continue until the court says no, a weakening of the current law. Even if the court denies permission, the monitoring can go on through an appeals process. The bill also dangerously expands the government's powers to conduct surveillance for reasons other than terrorism.
Congress may be looking at the legislation as applicable to the next occupant of the Oval Office who may be less inclined than Bush to disregard laws and the rights of Americans. Members should not fashion measures with that perspective. No matter who next resides in the White House, the rules of law apply.
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