Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (San Francisco/San Mateo) voted against HR 6034, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Following is her statement to Congress:
Madam Speaker, when are we going to stop pulling the wool over the eyes of the American people? The proposed FISA law protects no one other than the administration and those within it who may use this new-found power to snoop and spy in areas where they have no business looking. We are giving broad new powers to political appointees who have repeatedly disregarded the Constitution and ignored the most basic rights of Americans to live their lives without Big Brother peeking his nose into their private matters.
This FISA bill gives the federal government sweeping powers to gather wide swaths of information from foreign sources while providing little or no justification for the national security value of that information.
The FISA Court set up to police the process isn't a court at all. Under this bill, the government can gather as much intelligence as it chooses for seven days prior to going to the court. Then, if the court says "No" to the request, the government can continue to gather intelligence for 60 days while they appeal.
Any first year law student knows that is not how courts work. If this were a real court, the government would be required to abide by the decision of the court and seek the warrant prior to conducting surveillance.
It is fundamentally untrue to say that Americans will not be placed under surveillance after this bill becomes law. The truth is, any American will subject their phone and e-mail conversations to the broad government surveillance web simply by calling a son or daughter studying abroad, sending an e-mail to a foreign relative, even calling an American company whose customer service center is located overseas.
Once again, our government puts a feel-good name on something that doesn't live up to its billing. Calling the FISA rubber stamp panel a court is akin to the President's "Clear Skies Initiative" which relaxed pollution regulations or "No Child Left Behind" which instead of helping schools, punishes them if they have children who are, indeed, lagging behind.
This bill sets out to reassure Americans that, because there are warrants and a "court", due process is taking place. But like the pseudo-court, FISA warrants aren't warrants at all.
A warrant is permission by the court to look for a specific thing from a specific person or group for a specific reason. The FISA warrant is given after the fact and can be as broad as gathering all electronic communication coming into or out of a foreign country.
Madam Speaker, America isn't simply "guided" by our Constitution, it isn't a set of "suggestions" but rather, the law of the land. It is the existence of this great document and our unswerving loyalty to it that makes America the greatest nation in the history of our planet. We can't be sacrificing basic constitutional principles like the fourth amendment simply because it's an election year and we want to make it look like we're fighting terrorism.
I join my colleagues in our unified fight to defeat the global terrorist movement. But we don't do that by sacrificing our hard-earned Constitutional rights and forgiving telephone companies who knowingly violate those rights.
The bottom line is, this FISA bill permits the collection of Americans' emails and phone calls if they are communicating with someone outside of the U.S. This is especially true when it comes to emails, because the world wide web has no area codes, so it is impossible to tell where email communications originate from. The Government is under no obligation to seek a warrant in order to monitor an email account unless it knows the account belongs to an American.
And once your email account is swept up in the system, it can be monitored. Regardless of the relevance of your personal information, once it is gathered by the government, it is never destroyed. One only has to recall the recent incident in the State Department where candidates' passport information was breached to know that this information isn't handled by robots, but people. And people can do any number of things with personal information.
Out of respect to the United States Constitution and the basic rights of Americans to live free of intrusive eavesdropping by their government, I strongly oppose HR 6034, the FISA Reauthorization Act.