Patrick Henry Was Unreasonable, Too: Fight FISA “Compromise” on the Fourth of July!

496px-Patrick_henry.JPG On the Fourth of July, who wants to legalize their government spying on them, their children, their parents, and their neighbors, without even a warrant? Listening to every phone call; reading every text message, IM, email, and facebook poke; watching every video you post or view? This is what we expect from Hugo Chavez, from Fidel Castro, or from the old Soviet Union. Yet that is just what the United States Senate is proposing to do, after the House already passed it.

After fighting and winning a war at long odds against the greatest empire on earth, at the demand of the people, the Founders of U.S. added a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, the fourth of ten of which is:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

—Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution, effective 15 Dec 1791

That is what the Congress proposes to give away next week, by saying telcos like AT&T and Verizon can spy on you as long as they have a note from the president saying it’s OK.

The Internet provides us tools to bring the Senators to their senses.

To quote a fighter against that same world-spanning empire, Mohandas K. Gandhi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

First they ignore you

Those supporting the FISA “compromise” bill mostly did look the other way, while hundreds, thousands, and now more than 10,000 people organized on Barack Obama’s own social networking pages a group called: As I post that group has 18,000 members and climbing.

Then they laugh at you

When the group got to number 1 among all MyBO groups, Fred Hiatt editorialized in the Washington Post referring to “the Internet tail wagging the legislative dog” while tooting the dog whistle of “contentious” and “dispute” and “snarled” (for which read “divisive equals bad”) and the ever-popular “reasonable people” few of whom he said could be found among critics of the FISA “compromise”. Funny how when the Bill of Rights was originally proposed, it was controversial, too, and it was only ratified because unreasonable people like Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death!” Henry argued for it.

Make no mistake: when Fred Hiatt takes the time to ridicule your initiative in DC’s newspaper of record, you’ve been noticed.

Glenn Greenwald provides a very good analysis of why Fred Hiatt’s post was inaccurate and misleading at best, and why there was no need for any new FISA bill at all, because the old FISA bill and court is still there, isn’t expiring, already handles communications passed through the U.S., was always set up to handle secret evidence, etc., and a third federal judge (one appointed by G.H.W. Bush) has now ruled on all that.

Then they fight you

The leading candidate for president, the one who previously said he “unequivocably” opposed telecom amnesty yet later reduced it to a “however”, responded to his critics on this subject. Or, rather, while the candidate was on the road his staffers did:
Update II: More than 600 comments and 90 minutes later (three times as long as we’d asked of them!) our policy folks are signing off. Thanks to Denis, Danielle and Ben for their time, and to all of you for your participation. We look forward to continuing the discussion.

Glenn Greenwald thoroughly dissects what’s wrong with Obama’s statement.

Some people think all this means that the critics have lost, because Obama hasn’t said he will vote against the “compromise” FISA bill, nor have enough Senators come out against it to ensure its failure. Yet when the presidential candidate who recently announced he’s depending entirely on individual donations delegates three staffers who spend 1.5 hours answering your remarks, you’re being fought. Keep up the fight, and you may well get to the last of Gandhi’s steps.

Then you win.

Ever since FISA came up in Congress several months ago, after Bush got caught red-handed illegally siphoning up all U.S. communications while ignoring the FISA court, which is a felony with up to five years imprisonment on each count, many have said Congress would knuckle under and do his bidding once again. Yet due to relentless pressure from bloggers and ordinary people, no such bill has been passed yet. And now the fight has escalated to an open revolt on the leading candidate’s own ground. After which the Senate suddenly postponed its vote until after the Fourth of July holiday, when most Senators will be back home celebrating the origins of the system of government they’re gutting. Think again, Senators. Think again, Obama. Follow Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold in filibustering against telecom amnesty.

Even passage of an amendment stripping telecom immunity could mean a win on stopping the whole FISA bill, since then it would have to go back to the house for reconciliation. And if Congress passes the whole thing without telecom immunity, Bush will probably veto it. And if the whole process drags out until the next Congress, which will have many more Democrats in it, it will more likely fail there. In any of these ways, we win.

So we’ll see if politicians will take the opportunity of the Glorious Fourth to tack to the center: to the Constitution, the centerline of the two-lane blacktop of our Republic.


PS: And in any case, we now know there are at least 18,000 people concerned enough about the Constitution to organize for it.