Today Maine Congressmen Tom Allen and Mike Michaud voted against the FISA bill that the House Leadership endorsed -- a bill that not only gives retroactive immunity to the telecom corporations Verizon, AT&T and others for illegal wiretapping, but makes it unlikely we will ever even know who were the lawbreakers and who were the victims. I'm proud that our two Democratic Representatives stood up against the powerful telecom lobbies and said no.
Maine has tough privacy laws, which is why the Maine Civil Liberties Union helped 22 Mainers take their case to our state's Public Utilities Commission (PUC) demanding to know whether or not Verizon had been letting the Bush Administration tap their phones or read their email. Verizon's response -- that they hadn't engaged in wiretapping as part of a "fishing expedition" -- had a definite non-denial-denial sound to it.
When the PUC demanded the company swear to the truthfulness of what they were saying in their press releases, the Bush administration leapt into the fray, suing the Maine Public Utilities Commission to prevent them from pursuing the matter. It would violate state secrets for these Mainers to know whether their phones were tapped or their email was read, the Administration said.
I never thought I'd see the day when the U.S. government could listen in on phone conversations or read private mail without first obtaining a warrant from a court. That sounds more like something that happened in the Soviet Union. But in a double sleight of hand, not only does this new legislation say such unmonitored surveillance of American citizens is permitted, it blocks any opportunity to test the premise in the courts. The administration says "Nothing to see here folks. We're just keeping you safe. Go on home." And then slams the courtroom doors in our face.
Why would the House -- which has the responsibility for enforcing oversight of the administration's activities, and which earlier this year passed a much better bill that didn't immunize the telecoms -- vote to legitimize that arrogant behavior? This action makes it all the more difficult, if not impossible, for any of us to find out the extent of the administration's illegal spying. (Oh, wait. The new bill says it's not illegal if the President says it's not illegal. That's in there, too.)
When Congressmen Tom Allen and Mike Michaud were sworn in, they took this oath:
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Clearly, they took that oath seriously. I am running for Congress to fill the seat Tom is giving up as he challenges Susan Collins for the Senate. If I am fortunate enough to be elected this fall, I will remember their courage and independence when I take that same oath.
Follow Rep. Chellie Pingree on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chelliepingree