CDT Identifies Threats to the Internet and Civil Liberties in the Lame Duck Congress
WASHINGTON - November 20 - The 109th Congress is drawing to an end, but that doesn't mean supporters of civil liberties and a free, open Internet can breathe easy. Several bills that threaten core civil liberties and privacy protections remain very much in play in the waning days of the lame-duck Congress. Defenders of those values must remain vigilant to ensure that these misguided measures don't find their way into the large legislative packages likely to be approved before lawmakers head home for the holidays.
Today, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) issued a special lame duck edition of its "Internet Watch List," identifying seven legislative efforts that cannot be allowed to succeed in the so-called "silly season" at the end of the 109th Congress. The watch list is online at http://www.cdt.org/legislation/2006watchlameduck.php .
"The hectic, unstructured final days of the 109th Congress are no time to enact legislation that fundamentally undermine our basic civil liberties or that would drastically alter the Internet experience for millions of Americans," CDT Executive Director Leslie Harris said. "Defenders of the Internet and civil liberties have been successful thus far in preventing the worst bills from passing, but we can't afford to let our guard down now. These measures will pose a very real threat until this Congress takes its final bow."
Remaining at the Watch List are two bills that would rewrite the law that protects ordinary Americans from government snooping. Put bluntly -- from a civil liberties perspective -- bills simply don't get much worse than those proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) to "modernize" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). What began ostensibly as an effort to bring the administration's warrantless surveillance program under judicial review has turned into an attempt to repeal the language that protects Americans from warrantless snooping.
President Bush has made clear that passing wiretapping legislation is one of his top priorities for the lame duck session.
"Not only would these measures authorize a domestic surveillance program that remains shrouded in secrecy, they would grant future Presidents broad new authority to spy on the activities of Americans without warrants or judicial review," said CDT Staff Counsel Nancy Libin. "It's not at all clear the law protecting Americans from unchecked surveillance needs to be 'modernized,' but even if it does, it would be a terrible mistake to try to deal with an issue that has the potential to undermine fundamental Fourth Amendment protections in the hectic final days of Congress."
Also on the watch list are Congressional efforts to impose mandatory labeling requirements on Web site operators; a bill that would require schools and libraries to block interactive Internet content; and an attempt to compel Internet providers to retain massive amounts of customer data for use by law enforcement. New to the list for the lame duck session is an effort to grant immunity to telecom companies that may have violated the law by sharing information about their customers with the government in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
CDT is urging lawmakers, journalists and activist to remain vigilant as the 109th Congress draws to an end, to make sure that none of these proposals become law.