Reining in Government Spying on the American Population

Note the title – spying on the population, not spying on specific individuals judged to be suspects. But do not despair. American democracy is not dead yet.

Already, in only a few weeks, Snowden and the pathetic panic of the Obama Administration’s rush to judgement against him have carried the U.S. to the point that Obama himself has admitted that government spying on Americans needs to be reined in: he is submitting reforms. The ACLU’s reaction: “Well, OK…we’ll give you a walk to first base.”

While the initial reforms outlined by the president are a necessary and welcome first step, they are not nearly sufficient. The bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is only one of several troubling programs disclosed over the last two months. The president must work with members of Congress to reform  all of these surveillance programs, including those authorized by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which collect, monitor and retain the contents of Americans’ communications without a warrant. We also urge the president to release the relevant FISA Court opinions and agency memos that have created a body of secret law that is far removed from public oversight and adequate congressional review. We must ensure that the government’s surveillance programs once again adhere to the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment. [Anthony Romero, ACLU 8/9/13.]

We have made extraordinary progress. Now, we all admit that domestic spying is occurring. We also pretty much all admit that too much spying is occurring. Indeed, the debate has moved on to a discussion of exactly how much reform will be needed to protect our way of life from additional abuse of power by an intrusive national security state that is finding this whole war on terror thing all too much to its liking. I mean, do you even realize how absolutely cool you feel on the muggy banks of the Potomac when it is your job, your sacred duty to run an endless, global war against “terror?!?”

In fact, the progress our nation has made this summer goes well beyond these initial steps. We also appear to have reached a general recognition that not only does domestic spying approved and managed behind closed doors without any say-so whatsoever not only by the American people (until last month totally clueless) but also by its elected representatives (equally clueless, except when eagerly complicit) constitutes a profound threat to our liberty BUT we have just in the last few days also come to the general recognition that these abuses have already occurred.

NSA-collected private information on innocent Americans not targetted as the result of any court-approved judgment, has, we are told, already been secretly been passed around, and–far worse, has been passed around with the intent of deceiving court officials! Now, may I please, in my innocence, be permitted to query: in what way does that differ from dictatorial abuse of power?

In all seriousness, this, in the space of a few summer weeks, constitutes an impressive turning of the ship of state, even if the ship is being turned mostly by all the little fish in the sea rather than the captain. But there is still further good news. A candidate for the Senate (Rush Holt of NJ) is campaigning on a promise to introduce new reforms, current members of both houses are tripping over each other to be the first to interrogate official suspects and to get their own reform bills passed, and the hero of the whole thing evidently remains secure from rendition/torture/jail without the right to a free trial in the great land of Solzhenitsyn, where one supposes Mr. Snowden may be composing his samizdat.


Politicians Defending Society:

Senator Jeff Merkley

June 11, 2013

Washington, DC – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), accompanied by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mark Begich (D-AK), Al Franken (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced a bill that would put an end to the “secret law” governing controversial government surveillance programs.  This bill would require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, allowing Americans to know how broad of a legal authority the government is claiming to spy on Americans under the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.


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