Democrats cave to White House in FISA vote

Today, the House of Representatives passed new legislation to overhaul the rules governing the Bush Administration’s controversial government wiretapping program. The legislation includes some modest provisions to reign in the relatively unchecked powers of the government to spy on Americans since the Bush Administration began the program in 2001. The bill also effectively grants sweeping immunity to telecommunication companies that illegally collected private communications of American citizens and handed it over to the government.

“It looks like the Democrats caved to the White House,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “There is no reason telecom companies should be let off the hook for knowingly violating the well-established civil rights of Americans. If this legislation is ultimately signed into law, all of the Americans who sued the telecom companies in protest will never have their day in court.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requires government agents to get a court-issued warrant to eavesdrop on American citizens. The White House has maintained that it does not need a warrant and can operate outside the court system because Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Al Qaeda after the attacks of 2001.

“The Bush White House believes it is above the law,” said Edgar. “It has made a practice of ignoring the courts and Congress in the name of national security. It is time for Congress to start acting like a co-equal branch of government and start asserting its Constitutionally mandated role of overseeing the Executive branch. This is another example of abuse of power.”