Saturday, August 11, 2007

Protect America from itself

Forty-one Democratic Congresspeople voted "yea" on Bush's ironically named "Protect America Act;" 16 Democratic senators did likewise [Evan Bayh (Indiana); Tom Carper (Delaware); Bob Casey (Pennsylvania); Kent Conrad (North Dakota); Dianne Feinstein (California); Daniel Inouye (Hawai‘i); Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota); Mary Landrieu (Louisiana); Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas); Claire McCaskill (Missouri); Barbara Mikulski (Maryland); Bill Nelson (Florida); Ben Nelson (Nebraska); Mark Pryor (Arkansas); Ken Salazar (Colorado); Jim Webb (Virginia)]. What were these people thinking? Why exactly do they believe this incompetent sitting president deserves approbation for continued attack on our basic liberties?

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, angrily chastised his colleagues for bending to the administration's will. "The day we start deferring to someone who's not a member of this body ... is a sad day for the U.S. Senate," Feingold said. "We make the policy -- not the executive branch."

What's at stake?

The law:
  • Defines the act of reading and listening into American's phone calls and internet communications when they are "reasonably believed" to be outside the country as not surveillance.
  • Gives the government 6 months of extended powers to issue orders to "communication service providers," to help with spying that "concerns persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States." The language doesn't require the surveillance to only target people outside the United States, only that some of it does.
  • Forces Communication Service providers to comply secretly, though they can challenge the orders to the secret Foreign Intelligence Court. Individuals or companies given such orders will be paid for their cooperation and can not be sued for complying.
  • Makes any program or orders launched in the next six months last for a year after being authorized.
  • Grandfathers in the the current secret surveillance program -- sometimes referred to as the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- and any others that have been blessed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
  • Requires the Attorney General to submit to the secret surveillance court its reasons why these programs aren't considered domestic spying programs, but the court can only throw out those reasons if it finds that they are "clearly erroneous."
  • Requires the Attorney General to tell Congress twice a year about any incidents of surveillance abuse and give statistics about how many surveillance programs were started and how many directives were issued.
  • Makes no mention of the Inspector General, who uncovered abuses of the Patriot Act by the FBI after being ordered by Congress to audit the use of powerful self-issued subpoenas, is not mentioned in the bill.

In short, the law gives the Administration the power to order the nation's communication service providers -- which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks -- to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.

These outposts need only to have a "significant" purpose of spying on foreigners, would be nearly immune to challenge by lawsuit, and have no court supervision over their extent or implementation.

Abuses of the outposts will be monitored only by the Justice Department, which has already been found to have underreported abuses of other surveillance powers to Congress.

[The above summary is from Ryan Singel's Wired Blog. Worth reading.]

How these Dems could willingly give these powers to a White House that has already shown the most egregious indifference to the rule of law is beyond me.

At least none of the candidates voted for it. And it lasts just 6 months. So Karl Rove has 6 months to wiretap all of the Democratic presidential candidates. In between leather parties, that is.

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