(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/6/08) – On March 5, 2008, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) joined other individuals and institutions who work to preserve civil liberties in sponsoring a letter to members of Congress commending them for refusing to pass the FISA Amendments Act of 2007 and urging them to allow it to expire.
The letter is as follows:
March 5, 2008
We the undersigned organizations commend the House for refusing to yield to administration fearmongering by passing the worst possible surveillance legislation – S. 2248, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2007. This bill would grant the administration unfettered access to all communications coming into or out of the United States without any meaningful court review or finding of wrongdoing and grant complete immunity to companies that cooperated with illegal wiretapping over the last several years.
As you go forward with negotiations, we ask that you leave the Protect America Act exactly as it is — sunsetted. As House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the Cato Institute noted, America is in no danger from the expiration of this unconstitutional law. Orders issued since last August remain in effect until their internal cease date, up to a year after issuance, ensuring that current surveillance programs will continue, in some cases, into 2009. These programmatic orders are not limited to individuals or facilities so that new targets can be tapped under existing orders. Of course, the government always has the option of tapping targets immediately and returning to court within 72 hours to obtain a court order under the FISA procedures that have served our intelligence community for nearly 30 years.
Congress should take the time to craft a bill that gives the intelligence community only the narrow authority it needs to track terrorists abroad while protecting the privacy of people in the
United States. It is critical that Congress does not repeat the mistakes made last August when it gave the executive branch the ability to conduct mass, untargeted surveillance, unconnected to suspected terrorists, with no limit on how American information can be used. If you must revise our intelligence laws, we ask that any new statutory authority include the following protections and principles:
* Require Court Authorization Before Surveillance Begins. Except in emergency situations, surveillance should never be conducted solely on the basis of the executive branch’s discretion. Courts must have a meaningful role in approving or denying wiretaps.
* Prevent Bulk Collection of U.S. Communications. No one disagrees that the government should be able to collect in bulk foreign to foreign communications, whether or not incidentally routed through the U.S. However, when one of the parties is American or located in the U.S., government should only be able listen in if the surveillance is specifically targeted at an individual.
* Protect Communications of People in the U.S. Capture of foreign communications can, and should, be conducted in a manner that protects people on U.S. soil. That includes allowing targeting of suspects abroad, but heightening restrictions on the use of information to which a U.S. person is a party. U.S. communications should be used and disseminated only when there is an emergency or a link to terrorism. The government should always be required to return to the FISA court to obtain an individualized order if listening to someone in the U.S. ever becomes a significant purpose of the lawful surveillance of a foreigner.
* Exclude Retroactive Immunity for Telecommunication Providers. Neither Congress nor the American public has yet to receive a full accounting of what telecommunication providers did with Americans’ most intimate communications or the legal basis for doing so. Without this information, Congress should not even consider denying Americans their day in court to vindicate their rights.
* Provide for Robust Congressional Oversight. Any new authorities must be carefully scrutinized by Congress to ensure that American privacy is protected. Congress has the duty to ensure that the executive branch does not overreach in the name of national security.
* Minimize Sunset Provision. The recent sunset of the Protect America Act is a perfect example of how such reasonable expiration dates for laws that implicate basic constitutional principles force the administration and Congress to review whether authorities are truly needed and whether they are narrowly crafted to protect Americans’ rights. Any new authority should again include a reasonably short sunset.
Indeed, the House of Representatives has already taken the first step towards restoring our rights by letting the Protect America Act sunset. It would be a travesty, if after making this courageous move, Congress ultimately decided to pass a bill that substantially replicated that overreaching authority. We fully appreciate the intense pressure you are experiencing from the fear-mongering of this administration, but your resolution in the face of such tactics is truly the patriotic action.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE)
American Civil Liberties Union
American Humanist Association
American Library Association
Arab American Institute
Asian American Justice Center
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Citizen Outreach Project
Congressman Bob Barr
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Defending Dissent Foundation
Democracy for America
Doctors for Open Government
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Government Accountability Project
Japanese American Citizens League
League of Women Voters
Muslim Public Affairs Council
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Immigrant Solidarity Network
National Lawyers’ Guild–National Office
PEN American Center
People For the American Way
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Republican Liberty Caucus
September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
The New Grady Coalition
The Student Health Integrity Project
U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Utility Consumers’ Action Network