Part of George W. Bush's legacy are laws that allow our government to trample our constitutional rights in the name of "national security."
First, after 9/11, there was the PATRIOT Act, which threw open the door to massive government spying. Then there was the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which gave retroactive immunity to the telecoms that aided Bush's illegal wiretapping program.
The FISA Amendments Act also allowed government spy agencies to suck up and store vast amounts of electronic information about people on foreign soil who don't enjoy the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure afforded to American citizens.
In practice, however, loopholes in the law also allow massive amounts of warrantless spying on innocent Americans.
Progressive champion Sen. Jeff Merkley is trying to change that and rein in intelligence programs that are spying on Americans. And this week he introduced the Protect America's Privacy Act (S. 3515) to do just that.
Tell your senators: Co-sponsor Sen. Merkley's Protect America's Privacy Act to end warrantless spying on Americans.*
The FISA Amendments Act will expire unless it's renewed before the end of the year, and rather than carefully review its implications, the Senate is on track to rubberstamp its renewal.
But the simple fact is that it's deeply irresponsible to do so. Among other things, we don't even know how many Americans have been affected, and all indications are that the numbers have been massive.
In fact, when questioned by two senators on the Intelligence Committee about the number of Americans spied on "unintentionally" by the NSA, the Director of National Intelligence responded by saying that "it's not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority of the [FISA Amendments Act]."
Before the FISA Amendments Act is renewed, it needs to be fixed. The best way to ensure this happens is to build support in the Senate for Sen. Merkley's Protect America's Privacy Act.
Tell your senators: Co-sponsor Sen. Merkley's Protect America's Privacy Act to end warrantless spying on Americans.
We need to back up Sen. Merkley, who is courageously standing up for our constitutional rights -- something few politicians have been willing to do in the decade since September 11.
While Merkley's bill does not repeal telecom immunity for illegal spying, restore privacy protection to library and bookstore records, end National Security Letter abuse, or roll back the worst abuses of the PATRIOT Act (all issues CREDO will continue to fight for, in addition to full repeal of the PATRIOT Act), it does make three major changes to the warrantless wiretapping program that help us end some of the abuses of the Bush era.
First, it would put stronger protections in place to ensure that spy agencies are not using this program as an indirect way to target someone in the U.S.
Second, current law allows the government to collect information in anticipation of having its request to do so approved by a special type of top-secret court. Sen. Merkley's bill would ensure that if this court decides the procedures the government is using to collect information are improper, any information collected from Americans cannot be used in a legal proceeding.
Third, the bill would establish a new process for ensuring that if security agencies determine that information is being collected on Americans, that information cannot be accessed or searched until a proper warrant is obtained.
As ACLU Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson said:
"This bill will give the FISA Amendments Act the overhaul it so desperately needs, restraining the government from unconstitutionally collecting and using vast amounts of data about innocent Americans. These amendments would allow collection against foreigners to continue while better protecting Americans and should be considered a win-win for both the intelligence community and the Constitution."
We need to stand up for our constitutional rights and end warrantless government spying on Americans.
Sen. Merkley's bill represents the best chance of us making progress on this front this year.
Sign our petition telling your senators to co-sponsor Sen. Merkley's Protect America's Privacy Act to end warrantless spying on Americans.
*NOTE: Sens. Wyden of Oregon and Tester of Montana have signed on as co-sponsors to Sen. Merkley's bill.