The revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting Americans’ emails and phone calls in what the New York Times terms a “significant and systemic” manner is hardly surprising.
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, The Nation and the American Civil Liberties Union have been complaining for years about the lax federal regulation and oversight of the spying agency.
When Congress debated — and ultimately endorsed — the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), the handful of members of the House and Senate who actually take seriously their oaths to defend the Constitution expressed appropriate opposition.
Along with the The Nation, the ACLU and other privacy advocates, these dissenters warned that the supposed “fix” actually lent official legitimacy to the secret warrantless wiretapping program that President Bush illegally initiated in 2001.
They also warned that the dumbing down of privacy protections would lead to more spying on Americans.
And so it has.
The Times detailed “overcollection” of American’ communications in its report Thursday.
The ACLU response is appropriate — both as an “we-told-you-so” and as a call to action.
“Congress was repeatedly warned that this type of abuse would be the obvious outcome of passing the FISA Amendments Act,” says Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Congressional leadership promised after this law’s passage that it would be reexamined along with the Patriot Act. It’s time to fulfill that promise and restore the checks and balances of our surveillance system. Warrantless surveillance has no place in an America we can be proud of. These revelations make it clear that Congress must now make a commitment to rein in government surveillance.”
Feingold, the only member of the chamber to oppose the Patriot Act in 2001 and the most consistent critic of abuses of the Constitutionally-defined right to privacy that Americans are supposed to enjoy is on the case.
“Since 2001, I have spent a lot of time in the Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and on the floor of the Senate bringing attention to both the possible and actual effects of legislation that has dangerously expanded the power of the executive branch to spy on innocent Americans,” says Feingold, the chair of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Despite these efforts, Congress insisted on enacting several measures including the USA PATRIOT Act, the Protect America Act, and the FISA Amendments Act, embarking on a tragic retreat from the principles that had governed the sensitive area of government surveillance for the previous three decades. Congress must get to work fixing these laws that have eroded the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. In addition, the administration should declassify certain aspects of how these authorities have been used so that the American people can better understand their scope and impact.”
Feingold, who is also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been correct all along.
It is time for his colleagues to acknowledge this reality and join the senator in not merely restoring our right to privacy but in holding to account those who have abused it in so “significant and systemic” a way.