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November 14, 2006

Government spying on citizens

Flashback: September . . . Congress was headed out of town for the campaigns and elections break. We fought, alongside more than a dozen organizations, to prevent a particular vote from occurring in the Senate. The subject? Warrantless surveillance of Americans. Our goal was simple: Keep that vote from occurring until after the elections.

We succeeded.

But the work is not done. The fight continues as Congress returns TODAY for a “lame-duck” session. Are you ready to fight for your rights?

Should a warrantless spying bill pass, it will permit this Administration, as well as future Presidents to spy on Americans without even a token of respect to their Fourth Amendment rights. This bill would leave all of us unprotected from snooping government agents working at the behest of either party. 

Assume for a moment this bill passes. Can it be fixed in the courts and Fourth Amendment rights restored? Perhaps, but how many years will that take? …how many people will have their rights violated in the meantime? And ultimately, can we even trust the court to make the right decision?

The best thing we can do is stop it now. No Warrant? No Search . . . is the name of the campaign. You can send a message now.

But that’s not all we’re worried about.

Before Congress left for the break, they tried to pass an immunity provision at the behest of the telecommunications industry and the White House.

Congress is considering two levels of immunity.

The Senate version is the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act, S. 2389. It’s fairly obvious that this attempt is a way to preempt legal claims against telecommunications companies for violating state privacy laws.

H.R. 5825 includes more expansive language. Companies under the heat of investigation are very likely to claim that it shields them from _any_ legal action, civil or criminal, for assisting the NSA.

And government employees involved are likely to invoke the same argument.

What’s at stake? Legal accountability and recourse for what might be the greatest mass invasion of privacy in American history goes out the window.

Congress attempted to sneak an immunity provision into the Port Security bill. I have been in regular contact with several other organizations fighting warrantless eavesdropping and every one of them expects similar clandestine attempts to insert this provision in some unrelated bill during this lame-duck session.

WE NEED A CLEAN BILL. (Of course, if we had the Read the Bills Act, we probably wouldn’t have to worry as much about such sneakiness.)

Please send a message through our proprietary Electronic Lobbyist System AND THEN CALL your representatives in Congress to oppose the passage of any such “immunity” provisions. You can make any of the following points . . . 

1) The judicial branch exists for a reason. It appears that the telecommunications industry assisted in the greatest invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on the American people. Those Americans effected have a right to discover the extent to which their privacy was violated. Immunity would completely short-circuit the judicial process. There should be a check on illegal collaboration between the telecommunications industry and the Executive Branch. There can be no Rule of Law if it can be so simply discarded after the fact.

2) It would be irresponsible for Congress to consider any kind of immunity BEFORE an investigation has been completed into whether, as well as how the law has been broken.

* The public has a right to know how many people’s privacy has been violated as a result of domestic spying efforts. The American people should receive disclosure on the nature of the relationship between the telecommunications companies and the NSA. Congress must hold hearings and obtain answers to these questions.

* The Congress should also allow the people to get these questions answered themselves through litigation before it even thinks of giving anyone immunity.

NOTE: Immunity might be a helpful bargaining chip in some instances to help probe the truth. But it would be wrong to “give away the store” before we know what powers have been illegally grabbed.

* Congress should not needlessly increase the threat of illegal government surveillance. Telecommunications companies’ adherence to the law is the biggest practical check we have against illegal government surveillance. Giving blanket immunity to these companies, which are responsible for the privacy of countless innocent Americans, threatens to make Congress’ laws a dead letter in secret meetings between telecommunications executives and government agents. Particularly considering that federal law already provides legal protections that adequately ensure companies’ cooperation with lawful requests by the government (including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was created at the behest of the telecoms in 1978) Congress should not take that risk.

* What precedent will this immunity set? If Congress favors the telecommunications companies’ interests here, instead of the public’s interest in privacy and the rule of law, other industries will inevitably demand similar special treatment whenever they are caught breaking the law.

Please pick one of these reasons, preferably expressed in your own language, and include it in your message to Congress. No Warrant? No Search.

Once you’re logged-in to send a message, please note the phone number of your Representative and Senators. Place a call. Leave a polite message with your Congressperson’s staff. Because of the danger and urgency of this situation, phone calls are crucial.

Take action now. Congress is back into session on today (Tuesday). They should be greeted by your messages. We must oppose warrantless surveillance powers and special immunity. We must assert our support for clean bills (no sneaky combining or logrolling).

DC Downsizers, the next eight days are going to be real challenging. Suit up for battle. Take action. And stay tuned for further battle instructions.

Jim Babka
President, Inc.

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