Monday, August 6, 2007

The FISA Bill

I've been internally steaming about the FISA deal that Congress cut with the President in the past two days. As I have become more politically aware (since, on a lark, my friend Kris and I attended Bush's inauguration in 2001), I have become more protective of my civil rights.

On this one, I'm with Darcy Burner.

(Kudos to Matt Stoller over at OpenLeft for the link.)

This bill appears to punt the debate six months into the future, into the heat of the election campaign, when all the candidates currently serving as legislators will imagine themselves The Executive, and will be leery of reducing the potential power they will wield. It's shades of 1996, when Bill Clinton and Bob Dole cut a deal over the line-item veto, which was later invalidated by the Supreme Court. In this case, the Democrats are giving in so that they can get on to other parts of their agenda, aided and abetted by Presidential hopefuls on both sides who see this power as something it might be nice to have.

"There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something," said one angry Democratic lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of caucus discussions. "It was tantamount to being railroaded." - The Washington Post

I'm not saying that our laws about surveillance don't need revision. We have analog laws in a digital age when it comes to electronic surveillance. But that revision should take place in the public eye, with citizen input. The whole point of electing our legislators is so that they will review and deliberate and consider carefully on our behalf, so that you and I can go to work and raise our families without having to actively monitor and participate in every single governmental decision. On this one, in my opinion, the Congress punted their fiduciary responsibility.

I see the six month timetable as a silver lining though, because it means we can gear up for the fight in February. This topic will be on the front line of primary season. Maybe we'll actually have a national debate about the erosion of privacy and liberty in the face of government eavesdropping and corporate data gathering.


[update] Special thanks to Raising Kaine for poinging out a fantastic discussion of this issue by The Richmond Democract (also diaried at Daily Kos), explaining why Senator Webb voted in favor of the bill. I look forward to the Senator's leadership on a public and complete debate on FISA, privacy and liberty in the next six months.

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