Civil liberties spared as House blocks FISA

The Senate has failed us. On Tuesday, Feb. 12, the United States Senate voted 68-29 to pass an updated version of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which contains, within its provisions, a broadening of the federal government’s spying powers, as well as immunity for the various telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program in the weeks after Sept. 11.

Thankfully, FISA was defeated in the House on Feb. 16. House leaders prevented the bill from coming to a vote.

The passage of this bill by the Senate is a sad testimony to the politics of today. Not only do the bill’s measures allow intelligence agencies to infringe on the civil liberties of Americans, but they in effect condone the blatantly illegal actions of telecommunications companies.

Every last one of the 68 senators who voted in favor of this bill should be, and are being, condemned by their counterparts who voted against the FISA update. In a not-so-shocking display of partisanship, each and every Republican senator lined up right behind the president on this one.

Also, not surprisingly, little was heard from mainstream news organizations following this vote.

Lou Dobbs might just have to broadcast an extra couple of hours to make up for this lack of coverage. However, credit must be given to Sens. Christopher J. Dodd and Russ Feingold, who introduced amendments to strike down the provisions that give the telecommunications companies immunity from the over 40 pending lawsuits against them.

Earlier, Dodd spoke on this bill for approximately 20 hours in an attempt to stall the vote. Senators, your efforts are much appreciated.

The Bush administration’s endeavor to gain approval of the FISA update illustrates once again its use of fear to justify an increase in federal powers. I think Charlie Savage would agree with me when I use the label “imperial presidency.”

This nation should be outraged that the president of this country would go so far as to protect companies that knowingly violate the law. I guess Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to the Vice President, was just the tip of the iceberg.

When the FISA bill moved to the House, it appeared that it would not be easily passed. It should have beeen the hope of every American that the House killed this bill and that our civil liberties did not take another hit.