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House to Bush: Get a Warrant!

I’m delighted that the House found the backbone that was so mysteriously missing in the Senate.The “Protect America Act” has been a continuing source of horror and amazement to me.  I mentioned this last month. To review:

  1. The government wants information that it isn’t legally entitled to demand.
  2. The government asks the telephone companies to provide that information.
  3. The telephone companies break the law and breach the privacy of their customers.
  4. The Senate thinks this is a fine thing.
  5. The Senate votes to prevent lawsuits against the telephone companies.
  6. The House refuses to go along and does not approve the bill.

I think the Senate is horribly wrong.  I want those companies to stand up and say “No, we won’t break the law.”  When the government overreaches, when the government tries to violate the law, I want every citizen and corporation to reject the request.  I want the citizens and corporations who break the law brought to justice.  Last month when the Senate voted to delay and consider amendments, I was greatly encouraged.  My hope proved false as senators on both side of the aisle failed their constituents, not to mention their oaths to the Constitution.

The other part of this bill, of course, is that it would extend the permission to engage in warrantless wiretaps on Americans.  The Senate also approved the extension of this unconstitutional law.  The Senate caved to Bush’s bullying: “If you don’t approve this, FISA will expire.”  The House correctly identified this as crap; more importantly, it was willing to bet that the American public will also identify it as crap.  FISA did not expire.  Warrantless wiretaps on Americans expired.  And a get-out-of-jail-free card was not granted to telcoms that should have know better than to break the law.

It’s also worth noting that the House offered a 21-day extension of the current law.  This was rejected by the White House.  If this law is as important as Bush thinks it is, why would he reject an extension?  The obvious answer is that he’s trying to pressure and hurry Congress into a rash decision.  The Senate fell to this tactic, but the House did not.

The Ides of February have passed.  The PAA was not extended.  The government continues to investigate terrorists.  And when it wants to wiretap and spy on Americans?  They should do exactly what the Constitution instructs them and the FISA law permits them to:  get a warrant.