The House of Representatives today has fallen down on the job. By passing the FISA Amendments Act (293-129, with 105 Democrats in favor), they voted to give this lame duck President an undeserved parting gift by passing immunity for telcoms that helped the President violate the Constitution by participating in the NSA's massive and illegal spying program.
While Speaker Pelosi and President Bush describe it as a "balanced bill" with "bipartisan support," the millions of Americans whose privacy rights have been violated by the President's illegal spying program seem to have been left out of the equation.
Senator Bond's gloating statement to the New York Times showed the true picture: "I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped to get." The Washington Post wrote that the bill "hands President Bush one of the last major legislative victories he is likely to achieve." And the San Francisco Chronicle, writing from Speaker Pelosi's home district, called the vote "weak, timid, spineless."
To say that EFF is disappointed in the House Leadership's support for this bill is an understatement. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer, so vocal in their opposition to telecom immunity last March, capitulated to a dangerous "compromise" that gives the telecoms and the Bush Administration what they have been demanding for over a year: Protection from court cases that threaten to uncover the extent of the President's illegal spying program.
Many Democrats stood up for the rule of law, and they deserve our thanks. Representatives Conyers and Nadler have been consistent and vocal in their staunch opposition to immunity. Senator Feingold has spoken out as well, saying that the bill "is not a compromise, it is a capitulation."
Republican Senator Arlen Specter has shown himself more supportive of the rule of law than Speaker Pelosi on this issue: "I am opposed to the proposed legislation because it does not require a judicial determination that what the telephone companies have done in the past is constitutional. It is totally insufficient to grant immunity for the telephone companies’ prior conduct based merely on the written assurance from the administration that the spying was legal."
As the fight moves to the Senate, we now look to Senators Leahy, Dodd and Feingold to lead the opposition to the immunity provisions in the Senate version of the bill. Contact your Senators now and tell them to stand strong.