Home > Law, Politics > Change We Can Believe In, XXXVII

Change We Can Believe In, XXXVII


Change We Can Believe In: We’re Still Listening

Last week, Congress approved and President Obama signed a five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The war on terror continues to be war on ourselves. Reporting in the NYT, Robert Pear writes:

Congress gave final approval on Friday [December 28] to a bill extending the government’s power to intercept electronic communications of spy and terrorism suspects, after the Senate voted down proposals from several Democrats and Republicans to increase protections of civil liberties and privacy.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 73 to 23, clearing it for approval by President Obama, who strongly supports it. Intelligence agencies said the bill was their highest legislative priority.

Critics of the bill, including Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican, expressed concern that electronic surveillance, though directed at noncitizens, inevitably swept up communications of Americans as well.


The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, said the surveillance law “does not have adequate checks and balances to protect the constitutional rights of innocent American citizens.”

“It is supposed to focus on foreign intelligence,” Mr. Durbin said, “but the reality is that this legislation permits targeting an innocent American in the United States as long as an additional purpose of the surveillance is targeting a person outside the United States.”

However, 30 Democrats joined 42 Republicans and one independent in voting for the bill. Three Republicans — Mr. Lee, Mr. Paul and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted against the bill, as did 19 Democrats and one independent.

Mr. Merkley said the administration should provide at least unclassified summaries of major decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“An open and democratic society such as ours should not be governed by secret laws,” Mr. Merkley said, “and judicial interpretations are as much a part of the law as the words that make up our statute.”

The Economist’s Jon Fasman offered informative commentary on the FISA extension, concluding:

Mr Obama first ran for office five years ago promising to roll back some of his predecessor’s more outrageous violations of civil liberties. He has done nothing of the sort. Mr Obama signed the FISA extension into law on December 30th, and he won the right to keep his rationale for killing Americans secret three days later. He deserves full measures of opprobrium for both, but this is no more about him than the Patriot Act was about his predecessor. The extension lasts for five years, by which time Mr Obama will no longer be in office. This is about America’s imperial presidency and the fourth amendment, which it has trampled into irrelevant ink smudges.

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