ACLU Victory in House Intelligence Authorization, House Affirms No Domestic Eavesdropping Without Warrant

May 11, 2007 12:00 am

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Government Spying

WASHINGTON, DC -The American Civil Liberties Union today cheered an amendment to the House Intelligence Reauthorization Bill that would prevent illegal domestic wiretapping by the government. The amendment, by Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), will reaffirm the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as the only legal means of collecting electronic intelligence surveillance. The amendment was passed late last night by a vote of 245-178.

“Congress has signaled that it will not allow the president to continue the National Security Agency’s illegal eavesdropping,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “Passage of the Schiff/Flake amendment is Congress drawing a line in the sand. This amendment reaffirms that FISA is the law and it needs to be followed.”

Congress originally passed FISA to provide the exclusive authority for the wiretapping of people in the United States in foreign intelligence investigations to protect national security. As the Senate Report noted, FISA “was designed . . . to curb the practice by which the Executive Branch may conduct warrantless electronic surveillance on its own unilateral determination that national security justifies it.”

Passage of this amendment makes clear that the House will not capitulate to separate legislative proposals by the Administration that would give the NSA the freedom to snoop into innocent Americans lives. While the Administration claims that its proposed FISA changes would “modernize” the law, in truth they would gut the judicial oversight mechanisms carefully crafted to prevent abuse, while expanding the scope of communications that can be intercepted under FISA. The ACLU noted that, despite many recent hearings about “modernization” and “technology neutrality,” the administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current FISA standards have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies, or proven unworkable for the agents tasked with following them.

“We applaud Congressmen Schiff and Flake for their work to uphold the rule of law,” said Michelle Richardson, ACLU Legislative Consultant. “Today is the first move towards Congress growing a backbone. We hope that the Senate will follow their lead and not be swayed by the administration and Department of Justice’s unconstitutional attempts to eviscerate FISA.”

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