Privacy SOS

More life breathed into warrantless wiretapping act

Now that President Obama has fully bought into the broad surveillance powers that Senator Obama had first vowed to filibuster and then supported, Congress seems bent on doing its bipartisan best to trash the Fourth Amendment. 

On June 19, the House Judiciary Committee by 23-11 voted to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 for another five years. 

In the words of Judiciary chair Lamar Smith (R-TX), “This bipartisan bill ensures that our country will be able to monitor threats to our safety and way of life, without sacrificing the civil liberties of American citizens.” 

In Smith-speak, civil liberties have nothing to do with allowing the government to conduct untargeted mass surveillance of Americans’ international communications. Warrants are immaterial to the Constitution.

Proposed amendments were all defeated in Committee. They would have required the attorney general to provide a redacted version of FISA Court rulings in order to see how the FISA Amendments Act was being used against Americans and to disclose or “estimate” the number of times the communications of Americans were captured without warrants. Another amendment would have reauthorized the measure only to June 2015: see votes here.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have got nowhere in their attempt to find out how Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act was being used

In a response that could even make George Orwell’s jaw drop, the National Security Agency informed them that giving them that information would represent a violation of Americans’ privacy rights. 

Senator Wyden, one of the few remaining champions of civil liberties in the Congress, is playing hardball by vowing to use a procedure called a “hold” to block the Senate from simply voting on the bill on the grounds that his colleagues have no idea how the FISA Amendments Act powers are being used. In the works could be a floor debate and possibly a filibuster. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.