The so-called Protect America Act will expire Feb. 15 if it is not renewed. The Senate is about to vote on a deeply flawed version passed in the summer as a temporary fix for what the Bush administration claimed were problems with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

FISA was originally passed in 1978 in response to decades of abusive government spying on its political opponents and citizens active in the antiwar and civil rights movements. The cover for such spying was always “national security.” The government coerced phone companies then to cooperate with them under this national security guise.

The revelation that major telecommunications companies had connived with Bush administration officials to completely bypass the FISA court in order to intercept large numbers of international electronic communications involving people in the United States is like a bad case of déjà vu. It also led to the passage of the Protect America Act that now must be renewed.

Bush is threatening to veto any bill that has amendments which deny companies like AT&T, Verizon and Bellsouth protection from lawsuits for their role in allowing government spying on U.S. citizens after Sept. 11, 2001. Some 40 civil lawsuits have been filed against telecommunications companies.

“It is for Congress, not the courts, to make the public policy decision whether to grant liability protection to telecommunication companies who are being sued simply because they are alleged to have assisted the government in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks,” Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnel wrote.

“Simply because” they “assisted?” We don’t think so.

Because guess what? The U.S. National Security Agency asked companies like AT&T to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site SEVEN months before the 9/11 attacks! Don’t believe us? Look it up in

USA Today.

Government spying and corporate collusion in it was already on the Bush agenda before they could use 9/11 as their excuse.

Senators should call Bush’s bluff and amend the bill under consideration so that corporate lawbreakers are not let off the hook, and so our rights are at least minimally protected.

As the Bushites prepare to leave office, they will try to do as much damage to the Constitution and democratic rights as possible. We can’t let them do that.