It's the best holiday gift any civil libertarian could hope for: a bipartisan coalition of Senators has refused to end a filibuster that is blocking renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. The group of Democrats and Republicans are rightly concerned that the PATRIOT renewal bill lacks meaningful checks and balances to protect civil liberties from roving wiretaps, secret search warrants, super-secret demands for private records, and the many other broad police powers that Congress granted in haste immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Many of those PATRIOT powers are set to expire on December 31st—but Congress is set to adjourn for the holidays today. If the filibuster holds, and the Administration won't accept a compromise—a short renewal of all the powers in order to give Congress a few more months to consider the issue—it appears that all of those provisions will "sunset" on schedule.
Today's Senate vote comes on the heels of a shocking story in the New York Times, which reports that President Bush allowed the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls and email messages of people inside the U.S. without getting a warrant -- all in the name of fighting terrorism. There was no confirmation from the Bush administration, but congressional leaders have already condemned the warrantless surveillance, with Republican Senator Arlen Spector calling for hearings after reading the report.
The irony of this shocking revelation is that while the Administration has been arguing in the PATRIOT renewal debate against reforms to the foreign intelligence surveillance process --a process that is severely lacking in meaningful checks and balances -- it has in fact already been bypassing that process and getting the NSA to do its dirty work with no checks and balances at all.
Now that the protection of our civil liberties is the focus of some very public scrutiny, it's time to tell your representatives in Washington how you feel -- especially as senators on both sides of the aisle say they are interested in a compromise to keep parts of the PATRIOT Act alive. Check the roll call and find out how your senators voted today. If your senators said "nay" to ending the filibuster, please write to them via our action center to give your thanks and encourage their continued opposition to the PATRIOT renewal bill. Remind them to stay vigilant about civil liberties in any maneuvering for a last-minute deal. The fight isn't over yet, and your lawmakers should know how you feel about your civil liberties.