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LICENSE TO SPY
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September 7, 2007

"Democracy is about hassles."- Mickey Edwards, The Constitution Project

"Need for a warrant starts with the U.S. Constitution." - Anthony Romero, ACLU

On August 5, President Bush signed into law the Protect America Act, which temporarily amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allowing the government greater power to eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mail conversations between American citizens and international suspects without warrants. The White House says that new Act provides necessary revisions to legislation which "has not kept pace with revolutionary changes in technology" and better addresses the needs of intelligence professionals.

Major changes instituted by the law include:

  • The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence now have the power to approve the international surveillance, rather than a special intelligence court.

  • FISA Court now retroactively oversees government surveillance procedures after it's been conducted. It no longer scrutinizes individual cases.

  • The government can now latch onto large telecommunications switches, allowing for more comprehensive eavesdropping on fiber-optic phone and email lines.

  • Telecommunication companies can be compelled to allow access to switches through order by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.
The changes to FISA expire in six months, pending Congressional renewal. The same day the House passed its version of the bill, Speaker Pelosi sent a letter to Representative John Conyers, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asking for reexamination of the FISA provisions as soon as Congress reconvenes in September. Pelosi writes:
"Tonight, the House passed S. 1927, a bill approved by the Senate yesterday, which is an interim response to the Administration's request for changes in FISA, and which was sought to fill an intelligence gap which is asserted to exist. Many provisions of this legislation are unacceptable, and, although the bill has a six month sunset clause, I do not believe the American people will want to wait that long before corrective action is taken."
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on September 5 entitled, "Warrantless Surveillance and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): The Role of Checks and Balances in Protecting Americans Privacy Rights." (Read the chairman's opening statement.)

Another contentious piece of the administration's legislative efforts on domestic surveillance, The Patriot Act, suffered a major blow on August 6, 2007, when a federal judge ruled that "investigators must have a court's approval before they can order Internet providers to turn over records without telling customers." The suit against the Patriot Act was brought by the ACLU, which is also sponsoring legislation to challenge the revised FISA rules.

>more on civil liberties during wartime

Anthony Romero

Anthony D. Romero is the sixth Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the 87-year-old constitutional rights organization that boasts over 500,000 members.

He became the first Latino and first openly gay man to take the helm of the ACLU when he started his position in September 2001, just four days before the 9/11 attacks. Anthony Romero, Photo by Robin Holland

Born in New York City to immigrant parents from Puerto Rico, Romero was the first in his family to graduate from high school and college and to receive a graduate education.

Before joining the ACLU, Romero served as the Director of Human Rights and International Cooperation at the Ford Foundation, where he led the program through a period of extraordinary growth, transforming it into Ford's largest and most dynamic grant making unit. In 2000, Romero channeled approximately $90 million in grants to address issues related to civil rights, human rights and peace.

In 2007, Romero and Dina Temple-Raston published IN DEFENSE OF OUR AMERICA: THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES IN THE AGE OF TERROR, which uses stories from Americans fighting civil liberties battles.

Mickey Edwards

Mickey Edwards was a Republican Congressman from Oklahoma for 16 years, serving as a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, as well as a senior member of the House Republican leadership. Mickey Edwards, Photo by Robin Holland

He was one of the three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation and national chairman of the American Conservative Union, and served for five years as chairman of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He was also the director of the congressional policy task forces advising Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign for the presidency.

Upon leaving Congress, Edwards taught at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government for 11 years, and now teaches at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, directing a political leadership program for the Aspen Institute. He was an advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Edwards is on the board of directors of The Constitution Project and has chaired task forces for the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Related Media:
References and Reading:
More on FISA

Collection of FISA information from the Federation of American Scientists
The collection includes all annual reports to Congress from 1979 to date, amendments, hearings and many other documents.

BBC News: Q&A: US surveillance row
"President Bush has signed into law an act allowing the tapping without warrants of telephone calls and e-mails routed through the United States. Previously the US government had to seek approval from a special court in advance."

Center for National Security Issues: FISA
Read original 1978 legislation, delve into Supreme Court cases related to FISA and learn about recent amendments in the Patriot Act.

Bush Signs Law to Widen Reach for Wiretapping
by James Risen, THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 6, 2007
"President Bush signed into law on Sunday legislation that broadly expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants."

Read the fact sheet about The Protect America Act from The White House

More from Anthony Romero and Mickey Edwards

Read Anthony Romero's Blog on HUFFINGTON POST

Anthony Romero speaks at the National Press Club Luncheon, March 9, 2004

Lawyers Challenge Bush
by Mickey Edwards, THE NATION, July 31, 2006

NPR: The Diane Rheim Show
Listen to Mickey Edwards discuss Congressional Oversight and Iraq policy, January 9, 2007

The Constitution Project
The Constitution Project Introduces First in a Series of Constitutional Commentary: Congress is the Ultimate "Decider" by Mickey Edwards

Politics of the Future
by Congressman Mickey Edwards, ASPEN IDEA (PDF)

Guest photos by Robin Holland

Published September 6, 2007

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Bill Moyers talks with former Congressman Mickey Edwards and ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero about revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

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