August 7, 2007 | By Derek Slater

Congress Caves on Warrantless Snooping -- What Happened, and How To Fix It

Last week, Congress passed horrible legislation that broadly expands the National Security Agency's (NSA's) authority to spy on Americans without warrants. Now Congress needs to undo the damage as soon as possible, and, to make it do that, your representatives need to hear from you.

By capitulating to the President's demands for sweeping new surveillance powers, Congress not only trampled on your Constitutional rights but also disregarded its own Constitutional duties. The law permits warrantless surveillance of "persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States," even when they are U.S. citizens or are communicating with U.S. citizens, with no prior court approval and only minimal court oversight. Rather than acting as a meaningful check on the Executive, Congress essentially handed him a blank check to invade Americans' privacy. (The Center for National Security Studies has published a more in-depth analysis of the law here.)

Congress' actions are particularly disgraceful given that the Administration has concealed the truth about its illegal spying. The President only revealed the so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" when press reports forced his hand in December 2005, and, after the Administration deliberately evaded numerous Congressional inquiries, it took the threat of possible perjury charges for the Attorney General to concede last week that the program was broader than first admitted. In its haste to pass legislation, Congress was flying blind, yet it caved in to the Administration's fearmongering anyway.

This is a knockdown -- but far from a knockout -- in the fight to stop the government's warrantless domestic surveillance. We'll battle back, and Congress still has a chance to pull back from its short-sighted capitulation.

For our part, EFF's case continues forward against AT&T for illegally collaborating with the government, with a hearing before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals next Wednesday. We'll keep battling in the courts to uphold the Constitution and restore your rights.

We also have to take the fight back to Congress, and for that we need your help. The most important check on the abuse of power ultimately isn't Congress -- it's you. It's up to you to hold your representatives accountable for allowing this egregious change or supporting it outright. Don't let them think for a second that this went unnoticed: send them a letter here, call them to voice your opposition, and visit their home offices in your district during the August recess. Spread the word to your friends and family about what Congress has done and urge them to take action, too.

Fortunately, the law has a sunset date, and, more importantly, Congressional leaders are already signaling that they want to revise the law before then. Restoring protections for your fundamental rights shouldn't wait even a day. Neither should our efforts to make sure that happens -- take action now.


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