Bush: the magician
Whilst I was having a good time in Europe, Prez Bush turned into a magician. Poof: he expanded the spying powers of the US and effectively vanished 40 lawsuits against telecommunications companies that aided US authorities to snoop and eavesdrop on their own citizens following September 11. Basically, Bush has ripped up the First and Fourth Amendments of the US Constitution and danced around the shredded pieces.
Here’s what happened: for some time, Bush has been itching to expand the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Since the “War on Terror” began, the NSA has been conducting illegal surveillance on US citizens. I’ve blogged about this before but you can also get a good rundown from Wikipedia.
Bush signed the spy bill into law on July 10 (let’s mark that day in our diaries as a major blow to privacy). It’s known as H.R. 6304, FISA Amendments Act of 2008. You can read the White House Press Release here. And what does this legislation do?
- Congress can now order Google, Yahoo and AT&T and other telecom companies to hand over all emails, phone records and text messages where a party to the conversation is thought to be outside the United States.
- so this means that the US now has a blanket power to snoop beyond its borders and eavesdrop on international communications without a specific court order (hello? Bush: this is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment concerning unreasonable search and seizure).
- it will affect journalists’ confidential overseas sources.
- it retroactively shields telecommunications companies from lawsuits (and so zaps into oblivion the 40 lawsuits alleging violations of wiretapping and privacy laws) So the telecom companies are given amnesty, how convenient for them. More news about this later in the post.
You know, when I studied Law, there was a little something called the Separation of Powers – meaning that the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers are kept distinct. So Congress (Legislative), for example, cannot interfere in citizens’ lawsuits. I believe it was a former US Prez, John Quincy Adams, who said “The judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislature and the executive, and independent of both, so that it may be a check upon both, as both should be checks upon that”. Seems Bush has vanished the Separation of Powers and the Rule of Law, poof…up in smoke!
Bush yaps on about how this legislation will protect Americans’ civil liberties and and how “It is essential that our intelligence community know who our enemies are talking to, what they’re saying, and what they’re planning”. Yep, I’m quite sure that lots of terrorists will be burning up the telecommunications lines planning attacks knowing that US intelligence is eavesdropping.
The American Civil LIberties Union (ACLU) isn’t taking this lying down. They immediately filed a lawsuit, Amnesty v. McConnell, on behalf of human rights groups and journalists, one of whom is Naomi Klein. Klein says: “everybody who’s involved in the lawsuit needs to be able to make phone calls, to send email with people who trust that there’s some security in these communications. Obviously for journalists, we need to protect our sources. For human rights workers, they may need to communicate with somebody in Afghanistan who provided them testimony on the condition that they not be named.”
The ACLU lawsuit contends that the amended FISA Act gives the Bush Administration virtually unchecked powers to monitor (snoop) Americans’ international phone calls, emails and text messages. They state: “Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval is an abuse of government power – and that’s exactly what this law allows. The ACLU will not sit by and let this evisceration of the Fourth Amendment go unchallenged”.
And if all this isn’t scary enough for you…then consider what else I’ve unearthed whilst researching the FISA amendment. The so-called amnesty or immunity to the telecom companies seems to have been bought. OpenSecrets.org lists the contributions to US House members from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon – an average of US$8,359 to a US House rep who changed their vote and supported the FISA amendment. 94 House Democrats, for example, had rejected the telecom immunity provision on March 14 but suddenly changed their vote in favour of granting immunity when it came to the June 20 House Bill. Maplight.org correlated the campaign contributions of major telecoms against the voting records of all House members who voted on the FISA Bill. Check out the findings here.
And the top three recipients of telecom campaign funds in the 2008 election cycle?
1. John McCain $379,835
2. Hillary Clinton $254,666
3. Barack Obama $249,072
I’m wondering if the Rule of Law, privacy protection and protecting American citizens from snooping means anything to these three Senators.
Illustration credit: Steve Brodner & Mother Jones
Thx to ThinkingShift reader, Prophet Kangnamgu (love your name!) for reminding me to bring this shameful piece of news to your attention.