As Congress begins to consider renewing sections of the USA PATRIOT Act set to expire at the end of the year, we have a unique opportunity to press for new civil liberties protections to shield ordinary Americans against government spying, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Last week, 10 US Senators introduced the perfect vehicle for reform of the surveillance powers in the PATRIOT Act, as well as the much broader and more dangerous FISA Amendments Act (FAA), the warrantless surveillance law that was passed by Congress last summer.
The new bill, called the JUSTICE Act, would add essential new checks and balances to a broad range of surveillance powers. In particular, it would reform the notorious National Security Letter power that allows the FBI, without court supervision, to secretly demand that companies hand over your private phone and Internet records.
Even more important, the JUSTICE Act would add strong new privacy protections to the FAA, which vastly expanded the government’s authority to sweep up Americans’ phone calls and emails without probable cause or meaningful court review.
The JUSTICE Act would also repeal the immunity for telecommunications companies that illegally assisted in the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. This would restore the rule of law and allow EFF’s suit against ATnT to continue so that the courts can do their job and rule on the legality of the surveillance.
“This is our first real shot at meaningful surveillance reform in a long time, but things are moving very quickly,” according to the release. “The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to consider PATRIOT renewal this week. It’s crucial that the bill that the committee sends to the Senate floor contains as many of the JUSTICE Act’s reforms as possible. It’s time to fix PATRIOT once and for all, and now is our chance.”
The non-profit organization urges people to contact their senators today and ask them to co-sponsor and support the JUSTICE Act.
© 2009, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.