NATIONWIDE –- May 1 – The American Civil Liberties Union called today’s FISA hearing
held by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee a setback to the rule of law.
The committee met to discuss and hear testimony from administration officials
about proposed "modernization" to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
submitted by Department of Justice and intelligence community officials.
"Broadening FISA would only reward and legitimize both the Justice Department
and executive branch’s numerous violations of the law," said Caroline
Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Giving the
Department of Justice more latitude to conduct warrantless searches is ludicrous
when you consider that it has shown no restraint with the power it already has.
If a little boy destroys a tricycle, you don’t hand him the keys to the
While the Administration claims that the 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. Ironically, the changes would return
intelligence gathering to the pre-FISA era and earlier, when warrants were
largely optional and abusive spying was not limited to people who had done
In fact, 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.
More disturbingly, this bill includes complete immunity - from criminal
prosecution as well as civil liability - for the telecom companies’
participation in the National Security Agency’s illegal warrantless wiretapping
program. The telecom companies provided customer call data on millions of
Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing. The ACLU noted that this rush to
retroactive immunity for an entire industry in the absence of a full and
thorough airing of the facts is unprecedented.
"Congress should not allow the Administration to treat innocent Americans as
suspects," said Fredrickson. "It also most certainly should not hand telecom
companies a get-out-of-jail-free card for violating their customers’ privacy.
Our lawmakers must prove that they are working on behalf of their constituents -
not big business."
To read the ACLU’s letter to the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence, go to: