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Under Obama II, Five More Years…of Widespread Government Surveillance

warrantless-wiretapping-300x228

While pundits and partisans argue about what President Obama’s second inaugural address bodes for the next four years of political in-fighting, the assault on privacy rights that began under George W. Bush shows no signs of abating under Obama. Just before the New Year, the President signed into law an extension to a warrantless intercept program that infringes on basic legal precepts of privacy and, many argue, directly contradicts the Fourth Amendment.

In all the drama surrounding the “fiscal cliff,” the renewal of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA)—the 2008 legislation that allows for warrantless surveillance of the emails, text messages, and internet searches of US citizens—seems to have slipped under the radar.

Under the renewed law, for the next five years the National Security Agency (NSA) can eavesdrop without a warrant on US citizens who are suspected of engaging in conversations with suspicious non-US-citizens. Conversations have to contain “foreign intelligence information”—but exactly how this broad term is interpreted by the NSA is unclear. What’s more, a FISA order on one specific person can be used against entire groups, potentially meaning blanket surveillance on thousands of Americans at a time.

The 2008 FAA was created in the wake of a journalistic expose revealing how the Bush Administration had circumvented a previous law—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. That earlier FISA had mandated that the NSA obtain a warrant from a special court if it wanted to spy on Americans. When confronted with the Administration’s blatant law breaking, Congress took the route of least resistance, crafting the FAA, which retroactively immunized the culpable parties. It also entrenched the Bush-era blanket surveillance as law.

“Not Reasonably Possible”

Federal courts, routinely deferring to the executive’s assertion of the “state secrets” privilege, have hitherto stiff-armed challenges to FAA.  Indeed, it is so swathed in secrecy that not even those who voted for the invasive program fully understand it. When Senators Ron Wyden [D-OR] and Mark Udall [D-CO] asked last May for a rough estimate of how many Americans have been targeted through the FAA, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) responded: “I’m sorry. That’s not reasonably possible”.

In response to another letter from Wyden in July, the DNI  conceded that “on at least one occasion the government’s implementation of section 702 of FISA has sometimes circumvented the spirit of the law,” and that it was “unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” The Wall Street Journal said that this “represented the first time the government has acknowledged U.S. spy activities violated the Constitution.”

Wyden was joined in opposition to the FAA by Senator Rand Paul [R-KY], who said that reauthorization of FISA would be “unconstitutional.”

“Over the past few decades, our right to privacy has been eroded.” Paul said. “The Fourth Amendment was written in a different time and a different age, but its necessity and its truth are timeless.”

But such warnings were disregarded by the majority, as the Senate voted 73-23 to reauthorize the Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid justified this action, claiming it was essential in the fight against terrorists.

Channeling Dick Cheney, Senator Reid warned that without it, “We will be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot against our country undetected. [Sen. Paul] is threatening to take away the best tools we have for stopping them.”

Exactly how these “tools” are being used is still unclear. During committee debate in December, the Senate rejected all proposed amendments that might have brought some transparency to the FAA. These included a modest proposal from Wyden, which didn’t seek to take any power away from the NSA. It would merely have required the agency to report each year to Congress on how its surveillance was affecting American citizens. Even that tepid and modest request was out of bounds.

***

As the War on Terror enters its second decade, the rhetoric of fear remains effective in silencing opposition to warrantless surveillance, which—along with drone strikes and indefinite detention—seems immune to meaningful legislative oversight or judicial review.

In the name of “national security,” what was once considered in violation of basic precepts of American justice, today is passed off as nothing more than the status quo. And barely a word of outrage is heard.

 

 

GRAPHIC: http://www.ijreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/warrantless-wiretapping-300×228.jpeg


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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1278300472 Edward Rynearson

    The Global War on Terror is grotesque projection.

  • Uncle Albert

    So, Russ, are we to understand that you do not trust uncle sam with all these secrets, all this new power? That you disapprove? If so, then it’s difficult to understand why you desire the populace to be deprived of arms, thus increasing the power even further, albeit incrementally… Please explain…

    • Russ

      Because the only thing i trust less than professional police, soldiers, etc–is you, a complete stranger, who, according to statistics, are much likelier to take out any of us peaceable types–for almost anything, starting with blocking your parking space or looking at your woman. No I definitely do not trust random people packing heat to act responsibly in emotional situations. Every day–every day–the news proves this point.

      • KGB

        The FBI, CDC’s, Justice System’s own statics and reports on crime say the opposite Russ, one wouldn’t know that if one got ones information from the news. Shame on one.

        • Russ

          Trying again…many more Americans get killed by other civilians than they do by members of uniformed forces. You don’t grapple with authoritarian impulses in government by handing out weapons to every Tomfool Dick and Harry.

        • KGB

          Interesting. Those very same “Tomfool Dick and Harry” individuals of history handed weapons died to give you the Right to call them that.

          Statistically “uniformed forces” (LEO’s) kill more individuals than “armed citizens” by quite a significant number where it relates to “justified homicide” [source: USDOJ – http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/justify.cfm – datatable for 2005: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/tables/justifytab.cfm. Up to 2008 cf pp32; figure 51 – http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf (PDF publish 2011)).

          The individuals one should have a reasonably rational fear of are known criminals/felons/repeat felons with (access to illegal) guns, they kill more of both.

        • Uncle Albert

          I have, once in 64 years, been threatened by a felon. He threatened to crash his car into my house if I did not pay for my sister-in-law’s supposed dope-debt. I promised to pay him. “I’ll go get the money”, I said. He followed me to the police station…he’d been “out” for less than a day when they took him. But I have never been threatened with a gun, except on numerous occasions by cops. Been beaten up while hand-cuffed too, and kidnaped by cops and beaten, but I have never been arrested. I don’t trust cops, but I refuse to fear anybody. That’s freedom! (and I don’t give a damn who has a gun.) Oh yes, never been a member of any “NRA” type organization ‘cept the boy scouts.

        • Uncle Albert

          Isn’t keeping a gun a “civil right”? Obviously it is. So how is it that Russ objects to losing some rights and not to losing others? He’s obviously being illogical here – the question is why… Is Russ stupid? Obviously not. So what’s driving his behavior? I see two possibilities. Though others may see more or other reasons, I’d suggest that the most fundamental driver of illogical behavior is fear. The other reason is somewhat dark and I’ll leave it to Russ and y’all to guess what that is, but everybody knows that the dark chamber suborns “journalists” as well as they can… But let’s assume it’s fear. If a journalist, a writer, is controlled by fear…then isn’t he an unwilling shill? Just asking…

          Oh yes, George Washing advised keeping guns for just the reason Russ denies…

        • KGB

          Provably motivated by “fear”.

          He (Russ) said in reply to a question you (Uncle Albert) posed “…also, those who dont have guns are terrified of those who have them and the potential of THOSE people to direct their weapons on us. i have had plenty of instances where problematical gun owners have threatened to use their weapon on me, for example when they claimed i was walking on their property. other times where people threatened to shoot me if i did not move my car, or felt i had looked at them in the wrong way…“. [source: http://whowhatwhy.com/2012/12/26/fact-checking-wayne-lapierre/

        • Russ

          NRA troll alert. LOL. Gonna start monitoring these dudes more closely, they always try and dominate and hijack conversations.

        • KGB

          Is that it? NRA troll? How is quoting YOUR response a troll where it clearly indicates that the general motivations for this sites stance on guns (in particular) is “fear”; you of all people should know and understand how very dangerous that is in regards to undermining Enumerated Rights; politicians use ‘fear’ all the time to do exactly that – if that can be done for one ‘Right’, can it be said with any conviction or guaranty that it won’t be done to others (free-speech zones)?

          The article above for instance points to the very real threat of manifest reductions in Free Speech on the Internet, not just through a chilling effect. The legislation doesn’t just effect Americans either my friend, it has GLOBAL consequences when tied together with other US and International ‘Acts’ and ‘Agreements’ – data sharing being the least troubling.

          Don’t let your personal distaste (‘fear’) of weapons (which I completely understand) undermine this sites integrity and impartiality, it’s dishonest journalism to not state your position openly, rather than doing it indirectly under the guise of impartial ‘reasoned debate’ when the truth is far from it.

          So to repeat, again… Not a US Citizen, not a gun owner and certainly NOT a member of the NRA.

        • Uncle Albert

          Isn’t that an ad hominum? If so it’s evidence of agreement according to the rules of classical rhetoric,

        • Uncle Albert

          QED

        • Mr M.

          Yes, you should monitor “NRA troll” more closely, and if necessary you should ban them – remove them from the conversation. It would be appropriate and true to type it seems. Nice ad hominem – although you never spout such fascist nonsense when you’re pushing your stuff on those gun loving libertarian sites…. I wonder why not?

        • Uncle Albert

          Yes, he said that, he said he’s motivated by fear. I’m am pointing out that there’s doubt about his claims in view of his illogical and selective support of civil rights.

      • Mr. M.

        A shameful and illogical response. Then why do you feed the unwashed, emotional and trigger happy masses such information as in the above article? What are we to do with it? We’re all ‘complete strangers’. Who is this site for? Your friends? Then make it a private site and keep the much likelier bad actors like Uncle Albert or me off the board. Surely our overlords are to be trusted – watching over us, making us safe, watching for illicit communications. They are the only ones worthy of being armed – then they must watch over their flock – yes?
        “According to statistics” – whose statistics? The killings I read about every day via gov’t drones? The half a million children killed in Iraq via gov’t sanctions? Are these not lives worth counting? And then you actually typed “the news proves this point”. For a man dedicated to showing The Herd (us) the corrupt malfeasance of a totally gov’t and corporate beholden “news media” – to use that as a defense is baffling for a journalist such as yourself. The news and the gov’t tell me there’s a ‘war on terror’ going on – apparently they are right, and deserving our unfettered praise and the above article should be sent to the proverbial shredder.

      • Uncle Albert

        So much, then, for the vital elements of honest “forensic journalism”; so much for an objective and logical position. It is, however, honest of you Russ, to admit it. By the way I do not permit guns in my house and don’t have any. Don’t want ‘em. But this does not stem from fear, rather it comes from the fact that I do trust strangers. I have myself many times been threatened by men and women with guns. Many times. Always by cops. Never arrested. Old. “Law-abiding”, as they say. I refuse to fear (I prefer to remain logical), but that doesn’t make me stupid. I can tell a hawk from a handsaw. I can see bias and agenda.

  • Westcoastliberal

    Truth be know they record ALL conversations, save all tweets, emails, faxes, you name it. That’s what the new Utah facility is designed to expand. Step out of favor with the gov & they’ll find a law you’ve broken, regardless. It’s the new Stasi state 2013 style.

  • Robert Miller

    Russ, you of all people should know that with every year the office of President has less and less control of anything.

    I am reminded of when FISA came up for renewal in 2008. It was pretty likely that Obama was going to beat McCain, but all the Republicans in Congress voted for it. Why? Because the power doesn’t reside in the office of the Presidency, it resides in Langley and all of its subsidiaries.

    I also recall that Obama was initially against it. Then he had plane trouble on the campaign trail and the Secret Service turned off the metal detectors at a rally in DALLAS within days of each other. Miraculously, Obama decided to support it.

    As much as I would like Obama to oppose these intrusions and drones and all the military adventures around the world, all those things belong to someone else. JFK and Nixon didn’t understand, but I’m pretty sure it’s all covered at the orientation after you’re elected.

  • ADCuthbertson

    Kim Dotcom has just revealed that he wants to encrypt half of the internet to end government surveillance… https://rt.com/usa/news/kim-dotcom-interview-mega-673/

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