Without fanfare, President Obama has reauthorized a law that allows the U.S. government to conduct surveillance on overseas activities of suspected spies and terrorists.
The law, which has been around since the 1970s and is known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was set to expire at the end of 2012, but Obama and Congress have extended it for an additional five years.
Provisions of the law allow the government to conduct all manners of surveillance, tracking overseas phone calls, email and other forms of electronic communication without first obtaining a court order for each case.
Overseas targets, sure, but what if they are Americans?
Ostensibly the law does not apply to Americans targeted for surveillance; in that case, the government is supposed to get a warrant from a special 11-judge court of U.S. district judges appointed by the Supreme Court (those this panel tends to rubber-stamp all such requests).
However, officials at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, say the measure is "a controversial law that allows surveillance of the phone and email communications of U.S. citizens without a warrant."
"The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, as adopted, clarified the legal basis for the use of electronic surveillance techniques by the Executive, but it also authorized surveillance of foreign communications, including communication of U.S. persons, on a mass scale without adequate public oversight," EPIC's executive director, Marc Rotenberg, said in testimony before House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in May.
He said sections of the law give "the government unprecedented authority to conduct electronic surveillance without first establishing probable cause to believe that a particular target was a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power," adding that the court's role in overseeing any surveillance measures "is merely to review the proposed procedures and guidelines, not to review the government's actual surveillance practices."
"This procedure, which has the effect of a 'rubber stamp,' diminishes the independent role of the judiciary and leaves the executive with broad and minimally accountable collection authority," said Rotenberg.
"Congress should not reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act until adequate oversight procedures are in place."
Well, so much for that
Apparently, his words fell on deaf ears, though not all lawmakers were tone deaf to his concerns.
From The Associated Press:
The Senate majority rejected arguments from an unusual combination of Democratic liberals and ideological Republican conservatives, who sought to amend the bill to require the government to reveal statistics showing whether any Americans were swept up in the foreign intercepts. The attempt lost, with 52 votes against and 43 in favor.
The point that sticks out like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room is that a majority of United States senators, who took an oath to support, defend and uphold the Constitution, did not care to know if any Americans "were swept up in the foreign intercepts."
Voters should want to know why, considering that one issue was of primary concern to a privacy group whose executive direct spoke to that point specifically.
Natural News supports the right of the federal government to keep track of America's enemies, but if they are American citizens, the law and the Constitution should apply.