The House of Representatives on September 12 voted to extend George W. Bush’s FISA Amendments Act for another five years. The vote was 301 to 118. Only seven Republican voted no. FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The original act became law under Jimmy Carter in 1978.
This law authorizes the government to conduct wiretaps without a warrant. In short, it is an open violation of the 4th Amendment.
The FISA Amendments Act, (.pdf) which is expiring at year’s end, allows the government to electronically eavesdrop on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is believed outside the United States. The communications may be intercepted “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”
The government has also interpreted the law to mean that as long as the real target is al-Qaida, the government can wiretap purely domestic e-mails and phone calls without getting a warrant from a judge. That’s according to David Kris, a former top anti-terrorism attorney at the Justice Department.
This was a bipartisan bill. It was pushed by the Obama Administration, but it was introduced by a Texas Republican Congressman, Lamar Smith.
The bill has been put on hold in the Senate. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) insusts that the government reveal how many Americans’ communications have been monitored under the law. He wants to know how extensive the domestic terrorist threat is, in the government’s view.
The various intelligence (spying) services say thewy will not comply. It would be illegal to comply, they say.
The National Security Agency told lawmakers that it would be a violation of Americans’ privacy to disclose how the measure is being used in practice. The NSA said the “NSA leadership agreed that an IG (Inspector General) review of the sort suggested would further violate the privacy of U.S. persons.”
Let me get this straight. The nation’s #1 spying agency — the CIA on digital steroids — says that to reveal the extent of its spying on Americans would be an invasion of their privacy.
The government is living so far behind Alice’s looking glass that we have lost all connection with reality.
The voters are living there. It takes an occasional announcement by a government bureaucrat to remind us of this fact.
The Senate version authorizes the extension by three years, not five.
Will the bill become law? I think so. The 2008 amendments expire on January 1, 2013. The thought of the spies’ having to get warrants to tap our phones will probably scare the Senate too much. It will buckle.