EDITORIAL: FISA filibuster

The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved by a vote of 293-129 a compromise bill reauthorizing warrantless electronic spying on the American people under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). About 50 Democrats joined the Republicans in approving the disappointing compromise authored by House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The new version of the FISA surveillance bill makes clear that the president cannot simply authorize spying on Americans — electronic surveillance may only be conducted with authorization through FISA and the criminal wiretap law. But the new bill extends from 72 hours to a full week the period in which surveillance can be conducted while awaiting FISA court approval. It also authorizes wholesale “bulk” monitoring of e-mails and phone calls. It provides retroactive immunity for AT&T, Verizon and other telecommunications giants, who face a flood of lawsuits by victims of the spying charging them with collaboration in a program that violates the Fourth Amendment guarantee against “illegal search and seizure.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement charging that the House-passed bill “fails to hold the Bush-Cheney administration accountable for its illegal wiretapping program.”

Leahy added, “I will oppose this new FISA bill when the Senate votes on it next week.” Congress, he added, must do everything possible to protect the people from Bush’s “callous disregard for the rule of law.”

Some Democrats think this deal is smart election-year politics that will immunize them from attacks by the Republican right that they are “soft” on terrorism. But the outpouring of voters so far this year indicates that people are looking for candidates who will stand and fight in defense of democratic rights and the rule of law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will vote against the FISA bill. Democrats Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin vow to stage a filibuster to block the bill because of their outrage at the blanket immunity for the telecoms. Barbara Boxer (California) and Ron Wyden (Oregon) say they will support the filibuster. Urge your senators to oppose this bill. It makes far too many concessions to Bush-Cheney spying.