What Every American Needs to Know (and Do) About FISA Before Wednesday Voting


“Those who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
–Benjamin Franklin

Trouble viewing? Click here.

[Note: The vote was postponed from Tuesday (today) to tomorrow, Wednesday. There is still time to take the actions below.]

This is the most important and controversial post I’ve ever written. For American readers, the short video above could be the most important video you watch in your lifetime.

I hesitated to post this and will alienate some readers, but I accept that.

Wednesday, July 9th, could mark the beginning of official condoning of warrantless surveillance of law-abiding citizens in the US, not to mention foreign nationals. I am not an alarmist and believe in qualified surveillance with process — this is different. I’ve done the homework.

The above is an 18-minute interview that I just finished with Daniel Ellsberg, famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971. His actions are often credited with helping end not only the Nixon presidency but also the Vietnam War. He consulted for the Kennedy Administration after receiving a PhD. from Harvard in Economics and served in the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

Remember that part of lifestyle design is creating a good environment for you and those you care for. Central to this is preventing dangerous laws — the rules of your environment — from coming into existence. This is not about being political. It’s about being responsible. There are Republicans in Congress who oppose this bill, so it shouldn’t be written off as leftist propaganda.

In the video above, I interview Ellsberg to learn what every American needs to know — and do in the next 24 hours — about the new FISA (Foreign Information and Surveillance Act) amendments. The interview, and below partial transcription, answers questions like…

-I don’t have anything to hide. How does this affect me?

-What if this type of surveillance is what has prevented another 9/11 from happening?

-What are common inaccuracies about FISA reported in the media?

Please watch it.

Find below how you can make a real impact in less than 60 seconds. Every person counts — the Senators who will vote are watching the numbers. 41 Senators can block the bill, and it’s not too late.

Please do the following.

How I ask you to spend 60 seconds

Daniel explains below several important reasons to act in the next few hours (much more in the video), but for those who are prepared to spend 60 seconds to help protect their liberties and prevent warrantless wiretapping from becoming a new standard in the US, here are two options:

1. ALL AMERICANS: Go to the EFF website here and put in your zipcode to find your Senator’s phone number. Call them and read the short script on the same page. If no answer or a full voicemail box, click the link at the bottom of the page to e-mail them.
(Tell others verbally to go to “www.eff.org” and click “take action”)

2. OBAMA SUPPORTERS: Go to My.BarackObama.com here and join the group requesting he oppose (as he did earlier) the amendment. This takes about 30 seconds. I suggest changing “ListServ” in the bottom right to “Do not receive e-mails.”
(Tell others verbally to search “obama please vote no” on Google and My.BarackObama.com will be in the top 3 results, currently #1)

I would love to give online Facebook-like groups for all Republicans, especially McCain, and Democrats who originally opposed the bill, but Obama is the only Senator I can find with a group to join specifically related this FISA bill.

Two Tips from a Former Pfizer Lobbyist and Fellow Reader

Credit and thanks to “Roger Dodger”:

1) When you call your Senators, ask then where they stand on the bills before reading the script. If they are with you on most issues, thank them! Then ask why they don’t support the issues you differ on. Then go on to ask for their support on those issues. If they are against you in most things, then refer to the entire script.

2) If they get enough calls, they will change their minds on an issue. 10 activists saying an issue is important to them may equal the opinion of 10000 constituents. If you don’t believe that, just talk to any Real Estate Developer in your area and listen to their war stories on how 10 people coming to a community meeting and shouting blocked a multi million dollar project from happening.

Be nice. And be interested in the person on the other end of the line. These people have nutjobs calling all day to scream at them.

I was amazed at how uninformed people in Congress (not just the elected, but their staff as well) were on issues. I was talking heathcare with them and in most cases, ten months after passing the Medicare Part D, I was the first person who they’d talked to who had interviewed doctors on how they felt Part D was working.

Inform your Congress on issues you are interested in!

Some Highlights with Daniel Ellsberg

1. Why does the vote this Tuesday, July 8th matter to normal people who have nothing to hide?

Ordinary citizens who want to live in a democracy — including those with nothing to hide — should be concerned about the ability of the government to use private, sensitive personal information to blackmail, manipulate, and intimidate their representatives, journalists and their sources, potential whistleblowers, and activists or dissenters of any sort.

2. Couldn’t it be argued that this type of surveillance ability has prevented another 9/11 from happening? Isn’t it possible that this type of legislation has saved American lives?

The administration has claimed that is has, but without presenting a single piece of evidence that this is so, even in closed hearings to Senators with clearances on the Intelligence Committee. The FISA court has granted warrants in virtually every request that’s been made of it that has any color of helping national security. The administration’s decision to bypass that court, illegally, leads to a strong suspicion that they are abusing domestic spying, as some of their predecessors did, in ways that even the secret FISA court would never approve.

3. What are the most important factual inaccuracies about FISA found in the media?

Advocates of the bill take pride that it makes this amended FISA the exclusive basis for overhearing citizens, but that exclusivity is, in fact, in the current 30-year-old FISA bill already. President Bush simply ignored it in bypassing FISA, and there’s not reason that he and his successors would not continue to do the same here.

It’s been inaccurately stated that if this amendments didn’t pass, FISA would expire. This is flatly false. FISA is open-ended and will continue as it already has, adequately for 30 years. What would expire are some blanket surveillance orders authorized last year, which the majority of Democrats, including Senator Obama, voted against.

The current bill does include one useful amendment to FISA, which could be passed with virtually unanimous approval in an afternoon, to allow warrantless interception of foreign-to-foreign communications that happen to pass through the United States. No one opposes this.

Various administration officials have claimed that the requirement of applying for a warrant from the FISA court deprived them of speed and flexibility. This is false. The FISA allows for surveillance to be implemented in an emergency situation before a warrant is sought
, and that could undoubtedly be extended with Congressional approval without controversy.

What the administration seeks, and this bill provides, is permanent warrantless surveillance.

4. Let’s consider an analogy: police officers have the legal right to stop you if you’re going 56 mph in a 55-mph zone, but this right isn’t often abused or applied to harass citizens. What makes you think the administration would abuse their surveillance powers if this amendment is approved?

The abuses of surveillance to which governments are drawn are those that keep them in office, used to intimidate and manipulate their rivals, and to avoid debate and dissent on their policies. These are exactly the abuses that the Church Committee discovered in 1975, which had been conducted on a wide-scale by the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and in some cases even earlier, which is what lead to FISA in the first place.

To remove judicial oversight, which this amendment would effectively do, is to invite the same kind of repressive abuse that lead to FISA in the first place.

5. Why would the current administration want this amendment to pass, if not for safety of citizens and prevention of attacks?

Using NSA to spy without judicial oversight or constraint on American citizens provides the infrastructure for dictatorship. George W. Bush has frequently said what other presidents may only have thought: “It would be a heck of a lot easier in a dictatorship, if only I were the dictator.”

Other presidents have violated the law and the Constitution in much the same way as Bush, so long as they could do it secretly, but they haven’t proclaimed that as a right of their office as Bush, Cheney and their legal advisors have done.

The oath of office they took, along with all members of Congress, was to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. I believe that, in the matters we’ve been discussing, the Founders had it right, not only for their time but for ours.


Please Digg and Buzz this below if you believe this is important. Please act now, as hours matter.

Extended bio of guest:

Daniel Ellsberg’s earlier career includes serving as a Marine Corps company commander and earning a PhD. in Economics from Harvard. In 1959 he joined the Rand Corporation’s Economics Department as an analyst, and consulted for the Kennedy Administration on the command and control on nuclear weapons. In 1964 he was recruited to serve in the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Following two years in Vietnam for the State Department, Ellsberg eventually returned to Rand. In 1971 he made headlines around the world when he released the Pentagon Papers. Ultimately his actions helped end not only the Nixon presidency but the Vietnam War.

Posted on: June 7, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

228 comments on “What Every American Needs to Know (and Do) About FISA Before Wednesday Voting

  1. Tim love your blog but dont be so naive. Not sure why you are buying this leftist spin. Under this bill the ONLY time they will listen to your conversations is if you are talking to a KNOW terrorist overseas. We are not in any danger of losing any rights. I am a very strict constitutionalist and in no way would I ever give up my rights and if they were to listen to my conversations I would be upset, but if I was talking to a KNOWN terrorist then I would understand. Stop the spin and talk to the other side and get the other side of the issue.


  2. No comments yet?! Then let me be the first to say, “Kudos to you, Tim!” I’ll definitely be contacting my senators & Mr. Obama.

    Sadly, this historic vote did not make the front page of either my local news or the New York Times website.


  3. Oh man! It just keeps getting worse for you guys!

    Is it too much to ask for honorable people in positions of power?

    Glad I live in the uk. But we will be having the same problems soon enough…


  4. Tim, thanks for this. It’s incredibly important and affects us all – not only americans. Even as I’m in Norway, writing this comment, I’d be surveilled by the US government, without my own knowledge and without judicial oversight. It’s a breach of fundamental principles that has created democracy, and it’s slowly but surely eroding.

    I’ve recently worked with attempts to stop both the Data Retention Act in the EU, and the FRA law in Sweden, which are both laws severly limiting civil liberties. And the last one is even being used from January 1 next year. The FISA amendment is pretty close to the Swedish law, actually. Approved by so-called liberals.

    It’s a bit late now, but feel free to get in touch for campaign tips, if you need to. We’ve had quite some success creating debate and sparking interest here, and it’s the only way of getting people out of apathy.

    Otherwise, I’ll say what Bruce Schneier would say: If I don’t have anything to hide, you have no reason to watch me.


  5. What frightens me somewhat, is this the ease with which you suggest that privacy is only for U.S. citizens.

    Quote (part of highlight 3.):
    “The current bill does include one useful amendment to FISA, which could be passed with virtually unanimous approval in an afternoon, to allow warrantless interception of foreign-to-foreign communications that happen to pass through the United States. No one opposes this.”

    So, if you were to communicate with your friends, the U.S. government has no right to snoop on that. But if I communicate with my friends (and this communication passes through the U.S.), the U.S. government can just listen in?

    How would you feel if it was the other way around?

    This could also have big repercussions on corporate communications for instance? Should the U.S. government be allowed to listen in on foreign corporations talking with each other if it passes through the U.S.?


  6. @Dafmetal and all:

    I don’t mean to imply that privacy is just for US citizens. Not at all. I added “not to mention foreign nationals,” as the effects will be even more severe for you all. It just happens that we Americans would be living in an evolving police state, and since we’re responsible for contacting our Senators, I addressed this post mostly to my fellow Americans.

    @All who might consider this leftist spin:

    There are Republicans in Congress who oppose this bill. It’s not a party problem, it’s a 4th amendment problem with good people on both sides who have voiced real fears.

    Those of you who know more about these issues, please speak up! And remember folks — I didn’t write this for the debate but for the action we need to take.

    Please act. It cannot hurt to postpone or eliminate the immunity in the amendments, but it could end up being irreversible if we wait.

    Pura vida,



  7. Good for you Tim. It’s brave to make a personal, political stance clear, in public. It’s also very responsible. I’m thanking my lucky stars that, for now, I’m in Canada. I’ve passed your video on to my American friends (many of whom live in Washington D.C.).

    I try to stay on top of major American news and I’m a little startled that this issue isn’t a front-center, top-of-the-page headline. How eerie.


  8. It’s ridiculous that such a measure is even being considered, but we have strayed very far from our roots.

    Tim, I realize you don’t like or believe in the dogma of politics – you could do a LOT worse than read The Revolution: A Manifesto (Ron Paul) to realize just how far America has wandered and to finally see a real discussion of the problems we face and what solutions are available.


  9. Thank you for posting this, Tim. This bill will retroactively will make crimes that already have been committed by corporations and the Administration legal. (Yes, folks – domestic wiretapping without a court order is illegal).

    Only a fool would trust ANY government (let alone this crime family) to use such power only for counter-terrorism.

    This is not a left-vs-right argument. This is a “are we a nation of LAWS or of corporations” argument.


  10. “For American readers, the short video above could be the most important video you watch in your lifetime.”

    And today’s Most Extreme Use Of Hyperbole Award goes to…

    It’s not “leftist spin” to oppose this bill. It is spin, however, to act like it portends the doom of democracy as we know it.

    Call your senators, discuss the bill, oppose the bill, do what you like, but let’s not get into the apocalyptic nonsense that drives network news cycles.


    Hi KM,

    No hyperbole intended. I lived in Beijing circa 1995-96 in a “foreign experts” dormitory where we had all of our calls, mail, and e-mail monitored. If this amendment passes, in particular the immunity, we are a stone’s throw from this scenario.

    I do appreciate the comment, though. If we all agreed on everything, the world would be a boring place indeed.

    All the best,



  11. Tim i support you!

    I live in holland and we had that discussion as well some time ago. But any real democracy should not do so. The intentions of the bill might be good, but i’m sure it will be used for many other things than tracking terror suspects.

    Big brother will be watching us better i guess. I’d rather keep living with the risk of an attack than losing my precious privacy.


  12. Another nail in the coffin of Americans’ liberty.

    @Dean Ouelette
    “the ONLY time they will listen to your conversations is if you are talking to a KNOW terrorist overseas.”

    Who decides what is a “known terrorist?” That label could be applied to anybody (like the terms “enemy combatant” and “person of interest”).

    Even if the intent truly is to listen only to known terrorists, how would we know the rule is being followed?


  13. The truth is that by giving up this right we are allowing the government to come one step closer to dictatorship. This is a point that Tim pointed out clearly. Imagine each and every word that comes out of your mouth being overheard by some “intelligence” in the white house? No way!!! It is critical to vote against this act. We will continue to sell out this country by giving up our basic rights. This reminds me of communism. Could it be the iron curtain is going to come back? We must definitely step up and take IMMEDIATE ACTION.


    Jose Castro-Frenzel


  14. Tim: this is exactly what I was looking for when I criticized you for fooling around with all your free time. I am glad you ARE doing something serious, and this one is of personal interest to me. I am going to forward this piece as is to my own fans. Thank you very much!


  15. Another important action:

    If you really want to have an effect on this bill, the most forceful way is to donate to this fund:


    This is a fund started by Glenn Greenwald, FireDogLake and other prominent Democrats. The purpose is to get a fund of money together that will support primary challenges against select Democrats who vote for this bill.

    Calls are good, but history has shown that money is better.The specter of a primary challenge is one no Democrat wants, and the place we get the biggest bang for the buck in politics is via primary challenges.

    Tim, please check out the history of this fund, or ask people about it. If it gets up to $500,000 today — a half a million dollars floating around looking for challengers to those that voted for this — *that* will be something that the Blue Dog Democrats will listen to.

    One final thing — I loved your book, but on the thing on politics I flipped out a little — you said basically, don’t follow politics, just wait until the election and then ask the smartest people you trust. I screamed — political action is not only elections!

    I see now I completely misread you. The Low Information diet gets FISA — and those on the High Information Diet seem to have missed it. That’s a powerful endorsement for reading less…

    Congrats on a brave blog post — it’s always hard to know where that line is where you should pull politics into a blog like this — this was clearly one of those instances.