President Obama reauthorized a set of surveillance laws on Sunday, in another blow to civil rights that will grant the federal government the authority to spy on Americans’ communications without a warrant for at least another five years.
Congress passed and the President signed a renewal of 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.
Instead of let the bill expire and allow constitutional restrictions on searches and seizures return to the US government, the Senate renewed the legislation last week despite notable opposition from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Merkely (D-OR), and Mark Udall (D-CO).
Even though the government has acknowledged that the secretive program has exceeded its legal limits, violating Americans’ Fourth Amendment constitutional rights, the Obama administration has aggressively pushed for its full renewal.
In May, Senators Wyden and Udall demanded the National Security Agency provide an estimate of how many Americans have been targeted since the FISA went on the books. In response, Inspector General I. Charles McCullough said that was “beyond the capacity” of the office, and that “dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission.”
“If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant,” Wyden, told Wired’s Danger Room.
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.”
However, Justice Department documents released in September in litigation brought by the ACLU showed “that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.”
And this kind of spying is likely to continue to increase for the foreseeable future thanks to a bipartisan consensus opposed to protecting civil liberties and a constitutional law professor President that has insisted on ignoring the very document he taught on.