Monday, July 14, 2008

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against FISA + FISA Ramfications for the Press

There's some good news and some bad news on the post-FISA front. The "good news" - and perhaps I'm being optimistic in calling it that - is the wide-ranging group of international aid organizations, writers, defense lawyers, the ACLU and others that filed a lawsuit (the same day the President signed the 4th Amendment eviscerating FISA law) in federal court that will seek to have the eavesdropping provisions in the new law declared unconstitutional.

But before I get to the details of the suit, I thought a recent article by Chris Hedges - who was part of the team of New York Times reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for reporting on global terrorism - was worthy of discussion. I think one of the problems we've had as "the opposition" to the FISA law is the occasional lack of TANGIBLE ways that we could articulate in which ordinary peoples lives would be effected by this bill, and its warrantless wiretapping provisions.

Granted, we know that any of us could be listened in on now (though it doesn't seem most Americans are that concerned by this fact), and that this very concept is a violations of the 4th Amendment, and that yes, Nixon used these very powers to listen in on his "enemies" (which is why the original FISA law was created). But, beyond these very serious concerns, I think many in the mass public don't yet grasp all the ways this law not only weakens our constitution and the fundamental principles our democracy was founded on, but that it also, and this is perhaps most frightening, could serve to stifle dissent and debilitate even further our already miserable corporate media and their ability to get critical information from sources abroad.

With that, here are a couple large sections of Chris Hedges outstanding article from last week (who is also part of the lawsuit). Surely it makes one wonder that the arguments he enumerates could be some of the most important reasons why this administration has so doggedly pursued this FISA bill:

The law, passed under the guise of national security, ostensibly targets people outside the country. There is no question, however, that it will ensnare many communications between Americans and those overseas. Those communications can be stored indefinitely and disseminated, not just to the U.S. government but to other governments.This law will cripple the work of those of us who as reporters communicate regularly with people overseas, especially those in the Middle East.

It will intimidate dissidents, human rights activists and courageous officials who seek to expose the lies of our government or governments allied with ours. It will hang like the sword of Damocles over all who dare to defy the official versions of events. It leaves open the possibility of retribution and invites the potential for abuse by those whose concern is not with national security but with the consolidation of their own power.


I spent nearly 20 years as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, as well as other news organizations. I covered the conflict in the Middle East for seven years. I have friends and colleagues in Jerusalem, Gaza, Cairo, Damascus, Tehran, Baghdad and Beirut. I could easily be one of those innocent Americans who are spied on under the government’s new surveillance authority. The reach of such surveillance has already hampered my work. I was once told about a showdown between a U.S. warship and the Iranian navy that had the potential to escalate into a military conflict. I contacted someone who was on the ship at the time of the alleged incident and who reportedly had photos. His first question was whether my phone and e-mails were being monitored.

What could I say? How could I know? I offered to travel to see him but, frightened of retribution, he refused. I do not know if the man’s story is true. I only know that the fear of surveillance made it impossible for me to determine its veracity. Under this law, all those who hold information that could embarrass and expose the lies of those in power will have similar fears. Confidentiality, and the understanding that as a reporter I will honor this confidentiality, permits a free press to function. Take it away and a free press withers and dies.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Now let's get to the lawsuit, as reported in the New York Sun:

"A law like this is fundamentally inconsistent with the Constitution and with the most basic democratic values," an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who helped prepare the suit, Jameel Jaffer, said in a conference call with reporters. "It permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to surveil, what phone lines and e-mail addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, or why it's conducted the surveillance."

The plaintiffs in the suit include Amnesty International, the Service Employees International Union, and the Nation magazine. All argued they would have trouble gathering information because of fears generated by the law's broad authority for surveillance of calls between America and foreign countries.


The ACLU's legislative director, Caroline Fredrickson, called Mr. Obama's reversal disheartening. "It's obviously a disappointment, but I think at the end of the day, if you look at the vote outcome, Obama didn't really take any other Democrats with him. Senator Clinton stood strong in her position. And I think there were a majority of the Democrats who voted no," she said.

The ACLU's suit does not take on the so-called telecom immunity provision, which is expected to be challenged in pending lawsuits over warrantless wiretapping.

One thing is clear, this issue is FAR FROM over. Not only do we have this lawsuit, but we have the prospects of an Obama Presidency (the disappointment of his vote aside) and a democratic led Senate with leaders like Feingold and Dodd who surely will have his ear.

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