August 8, 2007
BORDC Tells Congress: End Warrantless Wiretapping and Restore The Fourth Amendment
Nancy Talanian, Director
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Northampton, MA - Last weekend, members of Congress ignored months of damning testimony about the Bush administration's secret surveillance programs and instead rubber-stamped an administration-backed bill that legalizes warrantless surveillance of Americans, in violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches.
In 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Acting Attorney General James Comey, and other Justice Department officials were prepared to resign over one of the administration's domestic eavesdropping programs. This past spring, a judge in the secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) found that the administration's recently scaled-back version of the program exceeded the administration's legal authorities.
According to BORDC director Nancy Talanian, "The administration's refusal to go before the secret FISA court, already considered a rubber stamp for the administration, to obtain warrants for domestic wiretapping was a major 'red flag' for Congress to address. By passing the 'Protect America Act', Congress has shirked its responsibility to serve as a check on the executive branch and has stripped the FISA court of oversight until 120 days after a wiretap involving a U.S. citizen begins."
BORDC is outraged at Congress members' willingness to undercut their constituents' constitutional protections without investigating the administration's secret spying programs. It points out that Congress made mistakes when it rushed the passage of the "USA PATRIOT Act" in 2001 and when it reauthorized expiring sections in 2006: mistakes that did not come to light until this year.
Talanian continued, "Congress trusted the executive branch's assertions during the PATRIOT Act reauthorization debate in 2005 that there had been no abuses. Congress now knows the administration had concealed abuses it had known about in order to ensure reauthorization. It is unconscionable that Congress has not only failed to rein in the FBI's powers to issue National Security Letters without court oversight, which led to more than 1,000 abuses and mistakes that violated innocent Americans' privacy, but it has compounded the likelihood of more abuses by giving the administration the green light to conduct virtually limitless warrantless surveillance of Americans."
BORDC is confident that the American people recognize the dangers of warrantless surveillance. "An accountable government is an effective government. If Congress refuses to hold the executive branch accountable for protecting our constitutional rights, then the American people must step in," said Talanian. BORDC urges those concerned to see how their members of Congress voted, to call their representatives and senators, and to meet with them whenever possible. Congress's August recess is an excellent time for people to meet with their members of Congress while they are in their districts.
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