Monday, September 21, 2009

Enacting Justice

On the 222nd anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001, along with seven cosponsors, introduced legislation "to place reasonable safeguards on the use of surveillance and other authorities under the USA PATRIOT Act."

The bill, wryly entitled the JUSTICE Act (Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts), will fix the worst abuses of the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act). Take that, you sneaky crafters of long, contrived acronyms!

According to the New York Times, "both the House and the Senate are set to hold their first committee hearings this week on whether to reauthorize three sections of the Patriot Act that expire at the end of this year. The provisions expanded the power of the F.B.I. to seize records and to eavesdrop on phone calls in the course of a counterterrorism investigation."

A press release Senator Feingold issued last Thursday declares:
The JUSTICE Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans’ constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism.

The JUSTICE Act reforms include more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records, the “sneak and peek” search provision of the PATRIOT Act, “John Doe” roving wiretaps and other overbroad authorities. The bill will also reform the FISA Amendments Act, passed last year, by repealing the retroactive immunity provision, preventing “bulk collection” of the contents of Americans’ international communications, and prohibiting “reverse targeting” of innocent Americans. And the bill enables better oversight of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) after the Department of Justice Inspector General issued reports detailing the misuse and abuse of the NSLs. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd, on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.
The bill would repeal the June 2008 FISA Amendments Act, supported by then-Senator Obama, in which Congress retroactively granted immunity to telecommunications firms that participated in the Bushies' illegal wiretapping program.

At the time that bill was passed, Feingold released a statement saying that "it allows the government to listen in on international communications to and from law-abiding Americans in the U.S. who have no connections to terrorism."

In case your memory about how this went down is a bit fuzzy, here is Rachel Maddow, substituting for Keith Olbermann on Countdown, talking with Russ Feingold on July 9, 2008.

"Having a Democratic president, and particularly Barack Obama, should allow us to greatly change this mistake." So here we are, and Feingold—not Obama—is poised to rectify the mistake.

Frequently these days we hear right-wing populists decrying the intrusion of government into the lives of U.S. citizens. And truly, here we have the opportunity to curtail government's currently unchecked ability to invade our private lives with impunity. Notice that the bill is sponsored by seven Democrats and one independent.

UPDATE 1: Write to your senators and ask them to support the JUSTICE Act!

UPDATE 2: Here's another good option.

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