In July 2008, Barack Obama, then a Senator and presidential candidate, voted for the FISA Amendments Act, while claiming that, if elected, he would push to amend it while also giving a meaningless statement saying that the bill was flawed.
Both Republican and Democrat legislators seemed quite willing to grant the Obama administration’s request to continue allowing the federal government to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance, further showing that the two party system in America is an absolute joke.
However, some of our so-called legislators said that Americans – or at least the members of Congress themselves – deserve to know how many of our fellow citizens have been targeted by this warrantless surveillance dragnet.
The bill at issue, the FISA Amendments Act, allows the government to monitor the phone calls, emails and other communications of Americans without any probable cause whatsoever so long as one of the parties involved in the communication is supposedly outside of the U.S.
This is done in the name of the government’s effort “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”
Yet since there is absolutely no oversight whatsoever, we do not know how this is actually being used. Even our so-called representatives are left in the dark.
“Reauthorizing this authority is the top legislative priority of the intelligence community,” wrote Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate.
Keep in mind, this is the same James Clapper who nonsensically claimed that Iran could attack the United States earlier this year in saying that Iranian leaders “probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – Have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”
I bring these facts up because clearly Clapper’s claim is ludicrous and has never materialized. Similarly, Holder’s claim is clearly laughable and has no basis in reality whatsoever. Trusting the word of these individuals, or even giving their assertions legitimacy is irresponsible.
The 80 minute long hearing before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security revealed that many lawmakers are willing to go along with the Obama administration’s demands.
“Foreign terrorists remain committed to the destruction of our country,” claimed Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the committee.
Rep. Sensenbrenner’s claims are neither borne out through data nor through projections made by groups with similar ideologies and motivations such as the Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI).
The HSPI report released last year, which is devoid of any factual basis whatsoever, claims that the focus should be shifted towards domestic terrorism, a position which has been consistently supported by others like the Department of Homeland Security.
“We have a duty to ensure the intelligence community can gather the intelligence it needs to protect our country and our citizens,” Sensenbrenner added, resorting to the tired tactics which have become all too common in the government’s attempts to justify their anti-American activities.
Thankfully, we can look to some of our founding fathers to see just how flawed and illegitimate this logic really is.
Benjamin Franklin touched upon this issue in writing, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
If Sensenbrenner and others had their way, we would have to completely disregard the principles upon which the United States of America was founded in favor of their twisted worldview.
One can relatively safely conclude that Franklin and others like him would thoroughly reject the FISA Amendments Act since it generally forces the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court to approve any and all electronic surveillance requests targeting the communication of Americans, so long as they claim it is terrorism-related.
To make matters even more ridiculous, the surveillance can actually begin a week before the request is even made and the government does not even have to bother identifying the target or facility they will be monitoring.
Furthermore, if the FISA Court happens to reject the surveillance application (which almost never happens), the government is still allowed to continue surveillance during the appeals process.
The rulings of the FISA Court are never made public and the FISA Amendments Act even gives the government the power to force internet giants like Google and Facebook (though I seriously doubt that they ever need to be forced) to help the government in their surveillance activities.
Unfortunately, not a single lawmaker voiced clear opposition to the reauthorization of the Act, although some voiced a slight bit of disapproval in saying that here should be more accountability and records of how the bill is actually used.
There is essentially no public information available on the program and what little we know has been the product of anonymous statements.
One such statement in 2009 from an unnamed source brought The New York Times to conclude that the surveillance of communications “went beyond the broad limits established by Congress.”
Considering just how broad the limits already are, this should be a matter of considerable concern for Americans, at least those who still care even slightly about their privacy and rights as protected by the Constitution.
Thankfully there were a few voices of clear opposition at the hearing, including representatives of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Both groups said that if the government were to reauthorize the legislation, they should commit to being more transparent. They said that the government should report the number of both Americans and non-Americans who have been monitored under the bill, something which I do not think the government will actually agree to.
One lone voice of apparent support was Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat.
“We should not be surveilling Americans with this low standard without significant oversight,” Scott said, without outright rejecting the legitimacy of such practices.
One voice of sanity was the director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, Jameel Jaffeer, who rightfully pointed out that the legislation was unconstitutional.
“The act’s effect is to give the government nearly unfettered access to Americans’ international communications,” Jaffeer said during his testimony.
The committee ultimately took no action whatsoever and Sensenbrenner announced that the committee would meet in secret with Clapper and others to discuss the legislation further.
In defense of this assault on our right to know what our government is doing, Sensenbrenner nonsensically claimed that giving any data about the spy program could “give the other side an indication of the extent of the operational strength of our national security agencies.”
This is yet another example of Sensenbrenner attempting to justify his beliefs with tired, intellectually bankrupt logic.
Thankfully the executive director of EPIC, Mark Rotenberg, was there to reply to Sensenbrenner’s claim, “I don’t see how it would.”
“There should be greater public accountability,” Rotenberg said during his testimony before the committee.
Others supported the notion that while the American people can be left in the dark about how our own government is operating, at least Congress should be made aware of the government’s surveillance activities.
“I come to this hearing disturbed by how little we know and how much more we need to know,” said Michigan Democrat John Conyers.
Thankfully, there might be a legitimate legal challenge to the act, thanks to the Supreme Court agreeing to decide on whether or not they will kill an attempt to challenge the legality of the act.
However, it is very important to note that they have only decided that they will agree the ruling of a lower court (which did not comment on the merits of the case) to reinstate the challenge at an as of yet unspecified date.
They did so without any comment, and yet this is still a landmark decision since it will be the first time the Supreme Court has ever agreed to review any case that even begins to touch on the secret surveillance program installed in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 by the Bush administration.
All we can do is hope that somehow our so-called representatives will realize what they are doing and actually stand up for the American people and honor their oath of office.
Otherwise, we’ll likely see even more of this widespread, wholly unconstitutional and unjustified surveillance activity at the hands of our increasingly tyrannical federal government.
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