The Obama administration still refuses to say how many times the government’s controversial surveillance program, up for renewal this week in Congress, has gathered intelligence about US citizens.
The program is the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which authorizes broad, warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications, checked only by a secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that doesn’t make it’s activities and procedures available to the public.
On Tuesday, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that the program has collected an extraordinary amount of valuable intelligence overseas about foreign terrorist suspects, while making sure to protect civil liberties of Americans.
But in July, it was publicized that the program had exceeded legal limits on at least one occasion in which it collected intelligence in an effort that was “unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 placed some measured controls on the Bush administration’s sprawling surveillance program. But even the amended program is overly secret and lacks sufficient checks, and the Obama administration refuses to disclose how many US citizens get caught up in the program.
“The only thing the public really knows about it so far,” writes Julian Sanchez, a policy scholar at the Cato Institute, “is that it was almost immediately misused, resulting in ‘significant and systemic’ overcollection of Americans’ purely domestic communications. Subsequent reporting revealed that the improperly ‘overcollected’ communications could number in the millions, and included former president Clinton’s private e-mails. So naturally, the Senate is charging ahead toward the renewal of these sweeping powers without hearings or debate.”
As the American for Civil Liberties Union has explained, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says “it isn’t even ‘reasonably possible’ to estimate how many Americans are swept up in the NSA’s expansive dragnet.”
The Obama administration, as is usual in cases where they disregard the Constitution, promises this mass surveillance comes with strong safeguards and accountability. In reality, the war on terrorism is continuing to be used to justify major infringements on the civil liberties of Americans.