Wednesday, January 30, 2008

House Extends Warrantless Wiretapping Powers For 15 Days

I don't want to beat a dead horse on this whole FISA, warrantless wiretapping, and constitution shredding issue being debated in Congress right now, but I should finish what I started Monday by updating you all on what happened in the House.

Not that its all that newsworthy that they extended - for 15 more days - the abysmal "Protect America Act", but, there was a noteworthy speech by Rep. Rush Holt I'd like you to see (linked in the article). What should be noted is that it was the House that "got it right" on FISA with their version entitled "The Restore Act", as it balances the need for privacy and government restraint with national security.

But before you get to the article, the leading advocate and defender of the constitution and civil liberties in the Senate today - Russ Feingold - is interview here on Alternet...please watch.

Now to the article in Wired Magazine on the latest developments...

Some sort of extension was expected, given Senate Democrats' acrimony over Republican procedural maneuvers. Passage of any bill also must deal with Senator Chris Dodd's pledge to filibuster any bill that includes immunity for telecoms currently being sued in federal court for allegedly violating federal privacy laws by helping the government secretly spy on Americans. But President Bush says he'll veto any bill without immunity for spying telecoms.

Any measure out of the Senate will also have to be reconciled with a bill from the House. Currently, the bill it passed -- the Restore Act -- cleverly curbs when the intelligence community can wiretap inside America without a court order and does not include an immunity provision.


Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) forcefully argued Monday however, that the powers handed over this summer should expire, since the longstanding framework requiring warrants for wiretaps inside the U.S. was better than the Protect America Act. Holt also pointed out that any sweeping surveillance orders initiated since August don't expire come Friday - the administration simply loses the ability to issue new sweeping surveillance orders.

Listening to this debate unfold I continually am struck by the implication being made by the anti-privacy and pro-wiretapping crowd that somehow we can't have security and privacy.

Bruce Schneier, author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, said it best:

If you set up the false dichotomy, of course people will choose security over privacy -- especially if you scare them first. But it's still a false dichotomy. There is no security without privacy. And liberty requires both security and privacy. The famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin reads: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." It's also true that those who would give up privacy for security are likely to end up with neither.

I'll be following this debate every step of the way, but, future posts will begin to include more details on "privacy protection" bills in the California legislature this year...both the good, and the bad.

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