Update: The House approved HR 5949, 301-118 on Sep 12, 2012.
BACKGROUND: It’s déjà vu all over again: Watch what you say and do on your phones, emails and other communications because, once again, the House of Representatives appears ready to reauthorize the 2008 FAA law that legalized the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program and more. The American public, including our library patrons, will continue to be exposed to needless surveillance under this reauthorization.
The FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012, H.R. 5949, (yes, this is the correct name of the bill and the law) would extend the provisions of the 2008 FAA to December 31, 2017, rather than letting the FISA sunset on December 31, 2012. The government is allowed to get 12-month orders from the secret FISA court to conduct “dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications—including phone calls, emails, and internet records—for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence.” *
As we did in 2008, the American Library Association (ALA) continues to argue against the FISA Amendments Act because of the FAA’s lack of transparency and the potential for abuse of the system that has been created.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) is taking leadership in the House to oppose H.R. 5949 and to bring some rationality to the necessary balance between our constitutional rights and the needs of law enforcement. Urge representatives to follow Polis’ lead and to vote against or amend H.R. 5949.
If passed, the bill, at the very least, should be amended to include:
- Requirements that the government disclose more about the extent and the nature of the surveillance that has been conducted under the FAA;
- Requirements for reporting about the number of U.S. citizens and individuals affected;
- Amendments that prevent mass surveillance and prohibit use of collected information for any other government uses beyond national surveillance.
The current FAA law authorizes the government to conduct surveillance in the United States on people that are reasonably considered to be “non-U.S. persons”. That also means the government can monitor communications between U.S. citizens and these non-U.S. persons. This process is approved without any meaningful judicial authorization and without probable cause. The FISA Court only evaluates if the procedures used to conduct the surveillance are designed to target those people that are reasonably believed to be outside of the country. Information is now coming out from the government about the impact on U.S. persons under this law.
Use our legislative action center to send messages to House members opposing H.R. 5949, the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2012 or call your congressional representative now!
* From the ACLU Washington Legislative Office web site where additional details are available: ACLU’s Washington Markup.
Lynne works in the ALA Washington Office and is director of ALA's Office of Government Relations.