Dems in Congress Moving Now to Spy on Americans, Reward Telecoms

The Democratic-led Congress, with the support of key House leaders, is moving quickly to expand unconstitutional spying authority on Americans and reward telecoms for breaking the law. As the ACLU's chief lobbyist, Caroline Fredrickson, points out in an email alert:

A sham spying "compromise" similar to the one we warned you about last week could be rammed through both the Senate and House this week. It's moving that fast.

Will you write today and let your elected officials know Americans want them to stand up for our privacy?

In a proposal that makes a mockery of the rule of law, telecom companies that broke the law by supplying mountains of personal information to the government without a warrant will be let off the hook.

Here's what Senators Feingold and Dodd had to say about Senator Bond's proposal, which is very similar to what we expect in the coming days:

"Under the Bond proposal, the result of the FISA Court's evaluation would be predetermined... the FISA court would be required to grant immunity."

Tell your members of Congress to reject a sham immunity "compromise."

There's a deeply disturbing premise behind this dangerous FISA legislation: The president simply had to claim his request was legal for immunity to be granted to telecom companies that illegally handed over personal information.

No matter how illegal, offensive or intrusive a company's invasion of your privacy has been, it won't make a difference, because if the president gave the company a note claiming their behavior was legal, they're completely off the hook.

Congress needs to reject this sham for what it is and insist on real accountability for telecommunications companies that broke the law.

Tell your members of Congress you demand accountability, not immunity!

Throughout the extended FISA debate, you and the ACLU have worked tirelessly to protect personal privacy and the rule of law. Together, we've given the Bush administration a run for their money, defeating a number of freedom-stealing proposals. Don't let Congress cave in now.

Thanks for all you do in defense of freedom.

The Web's most aggressive journalist covering civil liberties abuses, Glenn Greenwald of Salon, is also working with a coalition of organizations and activists to raise money for broadcast ads targeting those members of Congress who are accomplices to this apparent hijacking of the Constitution. Greenwald writes:

Targeting Steny Hoyer for his contempt for the rule of law

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

It is now definitively clear that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is the driving force behind a bill -- written by GOP Sen. Kit Bond -- to vest the President with vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and to vest lawbreaking telecoms with amnesty. Even as his office dishonestly denies that he is doing so, still more reports yesterday -- this one from the NYT and this one from Roll Call (sub req'd) -- confirm that a so-called "compromise" is being spearheaded by Hoyer and the House Democratic leadership. The ACLU and EFF are holding a joint call tomorrow to denounce Hoyer's "compromise" as nothing more than disguised guaranteed immunity for telecoms and, further, because "the proposed deal could be used to authorize dragnet surveillance of Americans' communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment."

As a result, there is a major new campaign beginning today aimed at Hoyer and a handful of other key members of Congress who enable telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping. In order to raise as much money as possible for this campaign -- far more than the $85,000 raised (and still being spent) in Chris Carney's district as a result of his support for warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty -- we are working to create an alliance with numerous organizations and factions across the ideological spectrum which oppose civil liberties erosions, as well as with as many blogs as possible (modeled vaguely after the ideologically diverse alliance that has arisen in Britain in opposition to the sprawling and lawless surveillance state there).

We hope to announce details about the participating individuals and groups very shortly, as well as the exact details of what we're doing. But given the time pressures, it's vital to be able to have as many resources as possible, as quickly as possible, for this campaign. The more money raised, the greater the disruptive impact will be.

For the moment, contributions can be made here. All the money raised will be spent exclusively on ad campaigns aimed at the short-term vulnerabilities of those in Congress responsible for delivering this indescribably tyrannical package of surveillance powers to the President and the accompanying corrupt gift to lawbreaking telecoms.

Last year, I wrote about the way the civil liberties community and progressive bloggers were hoodwinked into a slow response to the Congressional cave-in on FISA and warantless spying on Americans. They've learned their lessons, but the question is: will the rest of the progressive community care enough to respond during this constitutional crisis?

UPDATE: The New York Times offers a strongly-worded editorial opposing this legislation today:

This week, the White House and Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill hope to announce a "compromise" on a domestic spying bill. If they do, it will be presented as an indispensable tool for protecting the nation's security that still safeguards our civil liberties. The White House will paint opponents as weak-kneed liberals who do not understand and cannot stand up to the threat of terrorism.

The bill is not a compromise. The final details are being worked out, but all indications are that many of its provisions are both unnecessary and a threat to the Bill of Rights. The White House and the Congressional Republicans who support the bill have two real aims. They want to undermine the power of the courts to review the legality of domestic spying programs. And they want to give a legal shield to the telecommunications companies that broke the law by helping Mr. Bush carry out his warrantless wiretapping operation.