This week, a cynical and sniveling Congress handed President Bush a crowning jewel in his career-long attack on civil liberties in the form of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA). As a result, the Fourth Amendment was essentially eviscerated.
The bill, which the president signed into law on Thursday, gives him even more power to spy on innocent Americans without a warrant than he asked for -- in fact, it goes further to extend the power of the executive to collect our phone and email communications than the president's original, illegal secret spying program.
The FAA permits mass acquisition of the international and, in some instances, domestic communications of U.S. citizens and residents without prior judicial approval, without specifying the person, phone line, email address, facility, place or property to be monitored; without any finding of suspicion or probable cause; without meaningful judicial supervision; and without rules or safeguards to protect U.S. communications swept up in surveillance of people abroad.
The FAA fails to strike a constitutional balance between the government's interest in protecting national security and the rights of people in the United States to privacy and freedom of speech. Because we could not stand by and let this go unchallenged, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit 45 minutes after the bill become law -- challenging the constitutionality of the law and seeking to halt its enforcement.
Our clients in the lawsuit are attorneys, academics, human rights organizations and journalists who depend on the right to privacy when conducting overseas communications, and whose work is threatened by highly invasive surveillance conducted without meaningful judicial oversight. Because of the nature of their work, our clients have reason to believe that their communications have been, and will continue to be, intercepted by the government.
Congress let us down when it bowed to White House pressure and passed the FAA, so now we turn to the judicial branch to reverse the damage. The courts can and must overturn this unconstitutional law, and the ACLU will continue to fight for the privacy rights of all Americans to be restored.