Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Blog

Tomorrow, Congress will vote on the five-year reauthorization (H.R. 5949) of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), the 2008 law that legalized the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The FAA amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow for broad surveillance of American citizens’ telephone and electronic communications without suspicion of wrongdoing. Not only is there no information about the massive surveillance program available to the public, little is known about the parameters of what is allowed by the FAA among members of Congress. Despite their own lack of knowledge about the extent and nature of warrantless wiretapping, Congress appears to be prepared to rubber stamp another five years of surveillance under the law.

Our elected officials are lacking the most basic information about the judicial oversight and the actual surveillance carried out under the FAA, and only a handful of members of Congress have been permitted to attend classified briefings on these subjects. FISA court opinions interpreting our Fourth Amendment rights under the FAA have never seen the light of day. Members of Congress do not even have access to information on how many Americans are surveilled under the FAA each year. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) – who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee – has detailed how he has been blocked by the Obama administration for over a year in his attempts to learn basic information about the program.

Only a handful of Representatives have shown leadership on this issue in advance of the vote in the House. Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter urging the adoption of several amendments before the FAA is renewed. While the amendments proposed by these lawmakers would not stop unwarranted wiretapping, they would be an important step toward better oversight. They are as follows:

-          Requiring the government to make its required reports on its use of FAA authorities available to the public.

-          Requiring the government to publish unclassified summaries of significant opinions of the secret FISA court. 

-          Moving the bill’s sunset date to June 1, 2015, Otherwise the FAA would not be reviewed again until 2017.

Ultimately, the ability of the government to perform dragnet surveillance on U.S. citizens should be drastically diminished. The amendments proposed by House Democrats would solve an important problem standing in the way of that goal: that simply not much is known about the surveillance under the FAA and decisions of the FISA court. Tell your member of Congress today that you support these amendments to H.R. 5949, and the ultimate sunsetting of the FAA.

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