Thursday, July 10, 2008

New FISA Bill Misses The Point

I don't envy the Senate or Barack Obama on this one. Technology has changed a lot in the thirty years since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was first passed and, with it, the world. The amendments to FISA, passed by both the Senate and the House of Repesentatives, are an attempt to acknowledge these changes and to give security agencies both tools and guidelines with which to work. On the balance it seems an honest effort and one that the President is willing to sign into law.

As debate rages over whether the updated FISA is actually a good deal for the American people, two areas seem to be generating the most discussion:

  • That the law provides retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that gave private information to the government, without a warrant.

  • That Barack Obama by voting for the revised bill, seems to have reversed some previously held positions.

Yes, as the McCain campaign charges, Senator Obama does seem to have compromised his position on this, and that’s a shame. It takes a little of the luster off his candidacy. However, considering that Senator McCain didn't bother to vote at all on the bill, it seems to me that they might reconsider the wisdom of putting the issue under the spotlight. So, while worth noting when assessing the candidates in the upcoming election, their vote (or lack of) is an ancillary issue.

As for the telecommunications companies, it could be argued that in the shadow of 911, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. While we might hope (and have every right to expect) that they would take a stand against giving over our private records to the government without the benefit of a warrant, in the context of the time, I understand why they did. Yes, it should be an issue for the courts to decide, but it too is ancillary to the real issue, which is this.

The Bush Administration, after 911, knowingly and willfully broke existing law and violated the Fourth Amendment rights of numerous Americans.

So rather than spend our efforts trying to hold the telecommunications companies accountable, we should be petitioning, cajoling and berating our elected congressional officials to hold the president and the Executive Branch accountable.

Until that happens, all of the FISA amendments in the world aren't going to matter.

1 Comments:

Blogger kaicevy said...

Technology has changed a lot in the thirty years since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was first passed and, with it, the world

7:04 PM  

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