Jul 14, 2008
It’s OK and legal for the government to wiretap individuals’ phones without court approval – according to a law that has now passed the U.S. Congress. The Senate approved the law easily in a 68-29 vote last week. The House had already passed it last month.
Unlike most laws, this one is not only about the future. It also approves, retroactively, the secret wiretapping that the Bush administration has already been doing – illegally – since 2001.
In addition, the law stops ongoing lawsuits against phone companies which, again illegally, gave the government phone users’ records. In other words, Congress is effectively preventing information about wiretapping from seeing the light of day. Congress is not only sanctioning Bush’s breaking the law – it’s also helping him hide his crimes!
It’s obvious that Bush wanted this bill, and his fellow Republicans voted for it. But how about the Democrats? Having majorities in both the House and Senate, they could easily have stopped the bill and hold Bush accountable for breaking the law. But they didn’t – 21 Democratic Senators voted for the bill too!
And the two senators who are running for president? John McCain didn’t show up for the vote. How convenient, since everybody knows that the majority of Americans are against giving the government such powers!
And how about Barack Obama who, during the primaries, said he was against this law, especially giving phone companies immunity? He, too, voted for the bill – the whole of it! Not only that, Obama also voted for cutting short the debate on it. Like the majority of the senators, Obama didn’t want much discussion or publicity about this bill.
This law is basically doing away with the few legal protections against secret surveillance that Americans had. In 1978, after it was revealed that the government had been secretly spying on Americans, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
It’s not that having that law on the books helped much – and not before 2001 either. Of the 20,000 secret surveillance warrants requested by the government since 1978, the secret FISA court rejected only half a dozen! Legal or not, the U.S. government has always watched people secretly – in particular people who have tried to organize trade unions, got involved in the Civil Rights Movement or protested wars.
But still, the easy passage of this totally undemocratic law shows something. That is, our elected “representatives” not only will not protect our democratic rights, but they don’t even want to give us a legal opening to try and protect these rights ourselves.
No, it’s not laws or Congress that will guarantee our rights, but our own willingness and level of organization to defend them.