Civil protections, consumer privacy, and freedom from unwarranted government intrusion are the foundation of our most cherished civil liberties. The government and telecommunications companies have a responsibility to safeguard these rights, and by aiding the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program, they violated this basic trust. Congress is faced with continuing to fight to protect the privacy rights of all Americans or giving in to a President trying to shield telecommunication companies that sold out their customers. The right choice could not be clearer.

Retroactive immunity for these companies sets a very dangerous precedent, and Congress cannot afford to give in to the President’s ultimatum that he will veto any reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that does not include this immunity. That’s why last week we sent a letter to the President stating that we will not support legislation reauthorizing FISA that provides retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies.

Congress, an independent and co-equal branch of government, has the responsibility to examine the documents the Bush administration claims justify granting these companies deserve immunity. However, the President has intentionally withheld these documents from Members of Congress, openly infringing on the Congress’s constitutional responsibilities. That’s why, on behalf of all Congressional Progressive Caucus Members, we have written to the President to demand that all interested House Members be given access to the documents related to the actions taken by telecommunications companies as part of the President’s domestic surveillance program.

During the President’s State of the Union address last month, he again demanded that Congress make permanent his Protect America Act (PAA) with expansive warrantless wiretapping powers and immunity for telecommunications companies. These companies aided the administration’s secretive illegal wiretapping program that only became public in December 2005. President Bush again is whipping up public fear, arguing that America would be in greater danger and the men and women who serve in our intelligence community would be vulnerable without immunity and unchecked surveillance. This is just not true.

Under the guise of protecting our nation, President George W. Bush and his administration have repeatedly allowed to go unpunished those who break the law.The administration has used the specter of terror to broaden and abuse executive power at the expense of Americans’ rights and freedoms. Too often, this erosion of civil liberties has accompanied steps by the administration to ensure that the parties responsible for violating the law escape accountability.

Today, it is following the same shameless approach. Telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance programs handed over their customers’ records without a valid court order or other legal instrument authorized by statute. President Bush has insisted that he will veto any FISA legislation that does not grant retroactive legal immunity for these companies, which would prevent Americans from holding these companies accountable for their actions.

The President will continue to threaten that our country will be attacked if court oversight, accountability, and protections for Americans civil liberties are included in the FISA reauthorization. While we must work to strengthen our ability to protect our country from terrorist attacks, we should never sacrifice the fundamental values of our nation. Congress has a responsibility to stand up the President by upholding the Constitution and the rights of the American people.