I was reading yesterday’s conservative column (“Liberals Disarrange Defense Measures,” Daily Nexus, Feb. 19) and couldn’t help but feel that Mr. Dulgar was missing the point of the debate behind the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Since his basic argument is similar to the one blaring on every news channel these days, I feel UCSB students deserve to know the real issue concerning FISA.
First, the basics. FISA was created in 1978 as a response to President Nixon’s usage of federal resources to spy on political and activist groups, which violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of FISA was to create a secret court through which U.S. intelligence agencies could obtain warrants for electronic surveillance – without tipping off suspects – and to prevent these agencies from violating our civil rights. As surveillance is opportunistic, agencies are allowed to trace suspects for up to 48 hours before they must obtain a warrant. Since its creation, FISA has granted warrants in 96 percent of cases. The requirements to obtain a FISA warrant stipulate that the government must be reasonably sure the party in question is either involved in the commission of a crime or is outside of the United States.
The Protect America Act, signed into being in August 2007, removed the requirement to obtain a warrant. Since then, government agencies have been allowed to trace any and all communications – period. No warrants required. No proof necessary. No protection from unlawful search and seizure. However, this was not enough for President Bush, who demanded that Congress update the PAA to grant retroactive immunity to companies involved in spying on American citizens as early as August 2000. Note the year!
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are commonly used as the excuse for allowing domestic wiretapping to circumvent your Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unlawful search and seizure. Companies including AT&T, Qwest and Verizon have sent all data crossing their networks to the NSA and CIA since 13 months before Sept. 11, 2001, in complete disregard for the due process of law – and the rights of American citizens. We know this thanks to the Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to document these companies’ involvement and the damning testimony of AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein testified before the Senate that he installed a secret system inside of AT&T headquarters in San Francisco, copied every byte of data crossing their network and sent it to the NSA.
Because of this information, 52 separate lawsuits have been filed against companies complicit in violating the U.S. Constitution. If these lawsuits go through, two things will occur. First, the companies will lose billions. Most of them will suffer mightily, and some will even go bankrupt for selling out the American people. More importantly, these trials will reveal who inside of the U.S. government is responsible for these violations. What the FISA debate is really about is not the surveillance of terrorists. Rather, it’s about whether these lawsuits should be allowed to go through, and whether the government officials guilty of violating the Constitution should be punished.
The president knows this, and that’s why, for the last week, he has been waxing apocalyptic, telling us all we’re going to die in suicide bombings by al-Qaeda. It is also why he vetoed a congressional extension of the existing Protect America Act and allowed it to expire. You read that right. The PAA expired not because of Congress, but because of President Bush’s veto pen. He is trying to cover his own ass by getting the telecom companies immunity for their crimes.
So the next time you hear about the FISA debate, know that it was never about terrorists. This is about government officials, on both sides of the aisle, trying to escape the treason charges that come with violating your constitutional rights.