Government Approves Warrant-less Wiretaps: Again
There are many books, movies, and other stories that talk about government spying. They are usually thrillers that keep people on the edge on their seats. But what if these stories became reality? Is the government spying on us?
A committee of members of the House of Representatives met on Tuesday and passed a vote that would legalize a large number of wiretapping cases, much like the Bush administration did several years ago.
The House Judiciary Committee, following the Senate Intelligence Committee’s lead last month, voted 23-11 to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act. This new legislation expires at the end of this year, and allows government agents to secretly listen in on phone calls without a warrant so long as at least one person on the phone is in another country at the time of the call. So if you are talking to your best friend in Canada on the phone, the US government may be listening to everything you say. A press release said that the legislation was put in place to help the government “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”
Republican Representative and committee chairman Lamar Smith said before the vote that “We have a duty to ensure the intelligence community can gather the intelligence they need to protect our country.” He said terrorists “are committed to the destruction of our country.”
The FISA Amendments Act, which the Obama administration said was its top intelligence priority, generally requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court to rubber-stamp terror-related electronic surveillance requests that ensnare Americans’ communications. The government does not have to identify the target or facility to be monitored. It can begin surveillance a week before making the request, and the surveillance can continue during the appeals process if, in a rare case, the secret FISA court rejects the surveillance application. The court’s rulings are not public.
The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security debated the measure last month and was clearly willing to side with the Obama administration’s demands that lawmakers re-authorize the bill, as the Senate Intelligence committee did. The Senate’s measure extends the powers until June 1, 2017.
The House Judiciary Committee’s action on Tuesday sends the measure, which extends the spy powers until Dec. 31, 2017, to the House floor for a full vote.
An amendment by Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) to reauthorize until June 1, 2015, failed on a 12-12 vote for lack of a majority. An amendment proposed by Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-New York) to require the attorney general to provide a redacted version of FISA Court rulings related to the act failed 14-17.
“The public does not have an adequate understudying of any adverse impact this has had on the privacy of American citizens,” Conyers said. “Neither the act nor the bill provides adequate safeguards.” Rep. Dan Lungren (R-California) blasted back: “What evidence is there that it is being used to spy on Americans?”
The House Judiciary’s vote came a day after Wired disclosed that the National Security Agency told lawmakers that it would be a violation of Americans’ privacy to disclose how the measure is being used in practice. Two lawmakers, Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) had asked the government how many persons inside the United States have been spied upon under the FISA Amendments Act.