ACLU challenges FISA update with first legal brief
Published: Friday September 12, 2008

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The ACLU filed the first legal challenge to the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act Friday, criticizing the law as a infringement of U.S. residents' right to privacy.

The latest step in the ACLU's prolonged lawsuit against the FISA bill, the brief accuses the federal government of broadening its surveillance far past what is needed to defend the country from terrorists, according to a press release from the organization.

"The FISA Amendments Act allows the mass acquisition of Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The administration has argued that the law is necessary to address the threat of terrorism, but the truth is that the law sweeps much more broadly and implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or criminal activity of any kind. The Fourth Amendment was meant to prohibit exactly the kinds of dragnet surveillance that the new law permits."

The organization claims the FISA Amendments Act gives President Bush's administration unchecked power to spy on civilians without providing any information about its actions or facing review from a court.

A FISA court has repeatedly denied ACLU requests for public access to hearings that might reveal how, if at all, the spying law's constitutionality is being reviewed, RawStory reported.

President Bush signed the update to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Survey Act (FISA) in early August, giving U.S. intelligence agencies the power to wiretap phones and eavesdrop on Internet conversations.

"The legislation I am signing today will ensure that our intelligence community professionals have the tools they need to protect our country in the years to come," President Bush said during the signing ceremony, according to a transcript.

The legal documents associated with the FISA bill and the FISA Amendments Act can be found here.

A recent post on the blog Reason: Free Minds and Free Markets details how the FISA act creates "fertile ground" for those looking for a convenient excuse for surveillance.