By Jim Kouri
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
June 23, 2008
While political leaders and the news media continued to display their obsession with Senators Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, the US House of Representatives pushed through a bill that — for better or worse — will have an enormous impact on American citizens.
By a wide margin, FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (HR 6304) passed by a vote of 293-129 which surprised many Americans who believed President George Bush’s unpopularity and the antiwar sentiment would spell doom for one of the most controversial laws ever passed in the nation’s capital. See this video to learn what our leaders in Washington had to say about HR6304.
“The Fourth Amendment [of the US Constitution] is undergoing the biggest overhaul in US history, and in many cases, Americans believe they are being railroaded by their own government,” declares political strategist Michael Baker.
“We’ve gone from arguing about a street cop checking a bulge in a suspect’s coat pocket, to debating the legality of federal agents using high-tech equipment to monitor the communications of a large number of people,” said Baker.
The well-known former cop and intelligence officer points to — for example — the New York City Police Department’s Patrol Guide.
The guide — which is mandated reading for all police officers — explains the legal aspects of the search of suspects by police officers and similar procedures such as field frisk searches.
The rationale behind allowing police the authority to conduct searches has more to do with officer safety than the discovery of weapons, contraband and evidence that may still be in the possession of the suspect. The abuses reported regarding police misconduct have less to do with the policies and procedures distributed to police personnel and more to do with a lack of training and a lack of supervision.
“You show me a video of ten police officers beating an unarmed man in front of crowds of Americans, and I’ll show you a [police unit] that’s out of control due to a lack of training and a lack of supervision,” says former New York City detective Sid Francis.
According to law enforcement experts, no where within the police function is there more potential for abuse than search and seizure. This latest bill — if made into law — would expand the government’s surveillance abilities and grant retroactive immunity to telecoms for their role in post-9/11 mass domestic wiretapping. The Act, known more formally as H.R. 6304 and born after months of negotiations, represents a “bipartisan compromise.”
Much of the negotiations revolved around the thorny issue of “telecom immunity,” which if included would kill the 40+ lawsuits currently in progress accusing communications providers of assisting the Bush Administration in an illegal, post-9/11 surveillance program. As the bill currently stands, a court review will determine if providers received a presidential order requesting the wiretaps – regardless of whether or not the corrrect warrants were filed – and then drop all charges if that conditiion was met.
The warrantless search program, initiated by the Bush Administration in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, ran for almost six years until it was discovered by reporters working for the New York Times.
With time running out on the country’s surveillance laws – current vversions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs the nation’s surveillance activities, are set to expire in August – Congresss has little time to negotiate. Or so goes the rationale behind the speed with which HR 6304 is being pushed by members of both political parties.
I was common knowledge that the Bush Administration has always taken a hard-line stance against FISA updates that failed to include a provision for telecom immunity, although a leaked report earlier this year suggested that the Bush White House had become less “hard-nosed” on the subject
The FISA Amendments Act “balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans’ civil liberties, and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
“The House of Representatives today has fallen down on the job,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Hugh D’Andrade. “By passing the FISA Amendments Act … [the House] voted to give this lame duck President an undeserved parting gift by passing immunity for telecoms that helped the President violate the Constitution by participating in the NSA’s massive and illegal spying program.”
“Immunity for telecom giants that secretly assisted in the NSA’s warrantless surveillance undermines the rule of law and the privacy of every American,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “We are deeply disappointed that the House Leadership, which was so courageous in its previous opposition to telecom immunity, caved to the Administration’s fear-mongering and put this seriously flawed legislation on the floor for a vote.”
In addition to the aforementioned telecom immunity provisions, the FISA Amendments Bill would:
*Allow the government to conduct emergency eavesdropping without court approval for up to a week.
*Allow secret FISA courts to review expiring surveillance orders for up to 30 days before renewing them.
*Prohibit the government from superseding surveillance rules, even if it invokes war powers.
Require court permission to wiretap Americans overseas.
*Obscure out American citizens’ names when wiretapping conversations between an American citizen and a foreigner.
H.R. 6304 passed the House 239-129, and is slated for the Senate as early as June 23. Experts believe this will be one more example of lawmakers using a smokescreen — presidential race, etc. — to cover-up their true ambitions.
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