Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would trade in their freedom for protection deserve neither.” That quote appropriately describes the Democratic Congress’s mantra as they fight against the president’s ridiculous domestic spying laws.
For those unaware, the Bush administration’s Protect America Act (gotta love the name) recently expired because Democrats refused to extend many of the act’s superfluous, not to mention unconstitutional, provisions.
Nevertheless, Republicans are fuming over this new turn of events, claiming once again that the Democrats don’t want to “Protect America.” In fact, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) went so far as to say that “there is probably joy throughout the terrorist cells throughout the world that the United States Congress did not do its duty today.”
Obviously, the purpose of these idiotic Republicans’ ramblings is to create the perception that if Bush’s legislation isn’t passed, our intelligence community will have to shut down operations and will no longer be able to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists . which is completely absurd.
Republicans are arguing that we must OK this expansion of presidential power because the old laws of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) were way too restrictive and we cannot go back to being less safe.
This argument is laughable on so many levels, the first being that the Protect America Act has only been around for about six months, yet it is apparently now an indispensable piece of legislation that we cannot live without. Furthermore, that “old and restrictive” FISA law that Republicans rail against still allowed you to wiretap suspects without a warrant, just as long as you filled out the paperwork for a warrant three days after the illegal search.
However, the best argument to this Republican notion that FISA is less safe than Bush’s new act is that the Bush administration’s own Justice Department deemed FISA completely adequate to their counterterrorism efforts from 2002 to 2004. Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Congress went to the president’s Justice Department and told them that they could “loosen” the FISA laws to help track terrorists, but the administration said the current laws were more than enough.
Of course, all this begs the question: If the current surveillance bill isn’t about strengthening the “outdated” FISA act, then what is it about? The answer: Immunity from prosecution for the telecom companies that helped the Bush Administration illegally spy on innocent people for the past six months.
During the time the Protect America Act was enacted, all the major telecom companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) openly handed over mounds of international and domestic phone calls, e-mails and Web browsing logs for the government to inspect, even though they knew the government didn’t have a warrant to see such items.
However, now that the constitutionality of the president’s act has been questioned, the telecoms have pulled the plug on such spying measures since they now fear lawsuits from their customers. As a result, they have demanded that any spying legislation going forward protect them from all legal consequences they might incur.
Now the Republicans and the telecom lobbyists in Congress are arguing that these companies helped illegally spy on Americans out of their patriotic desire to “protect America” and thwart potential attacks. But this argument is flimsy at best when you consider that point in 2007, when some of the telecom giants actually cut the government’s wiretaps on suspects because the government had not paid all the bills they owed to the company.
Ultimately, as I alluded to with Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, we will always have a debate in this country about how far we need to go to protect American lives, and what personal freedoms we are willing to give up to accomplish that goal. I welcome the debate and believe it strengthens our democracy. However, the current “debate” over President Bush’s new version of FISA is far too ludicrous to tolerate. It is clear after looking at all the facts that the Protect America Act adds nothing further to the old FISA laws and in fact makes America less safe by allowing telecom companies to pry into anyone’s private communication records without fear of judicial action.
Patrick Molnar is a business junior and a Mustang Daily liberal columnist.