With none of the hoopla that usually accompanies the signing of major legislation, President Obama today signed a five-year reauthorization of the federal government’s warrantless wiretap program enacted in the name of national security.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows counter-intelligence officers to monitor overseas phone calls and emails in cases of suspected terror activity. Although the AP report on the closed-door bill signing today claims that “the law does not apply to Americans,” that’s not quite the full story.
As Wired explains, electronic eavesdropping is legally permissible “without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is believed outside the United States” and foreign intelligence information is involved.
For American citizens per se, the government is required to see a warrant from a special FISA federal court whose rulings are not public.
The US Senate approved the final legislation on Friday, and in so doing, defeated several amendments that would have increased privacy protections and transparency.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the law’s primary foes, had this to say after the Senate action:
“Of course, the fight against illegal and unconsitutional warrantless wiretapping is far from over. Since neither the President, who once campaigned on a return to rule of law on surveillance of Americans, nor the Congress, which has proven to be the enabler-in-chief of the Executive’s overreach, have been willing to protect the privacy of Americans in their digital papers, all eyes should now turn to the Courts …
“But make no mistake: this vote was nothing less than abdication by Congress of its role as watchdog over Executive power, and a failure of its independent obligation to protect the Bill of Rights. The FISA Amendments Act and the ongoing warrantless spying on Americans has been, and will continue to be, a blight on our nation and our Constitution.”
Remember when G.W. Bush was bitterly accused of shredding the Constitution and assaulting civil liberties when FISA was originally amended? This latest FISA renewal is the law of the land until December 31, 2017.
Do you think the FISA law is a legitimate counter-terrorism tool or does it unconstitutionally violate the privacy rights of ordinary citizens?