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Confidentiality Goes Out the Window With the FISA Amendments Act. What Will You Do Now?

Now that the FISA Amendments Act has been passed by both houses of the Democratic-controlled Congress and signed by President George W. Bush into law, a president’s administration can physically search or electronically spy on anyone, inside or outside the United States, doing anything, for periods of up to 67 days, without a warrant, without having to provide a reason, and then keep whatever information is obtained even if a judge complains after the fact.

Consider what this means to the idea of confidentiality in America.

Imagine a time before the passage of the FISA Amendments Act. Say, two weeks ago. Imagine that you and your husband, or you and your priest, or you and your doctor, or you and your lawyer, or you and a journalist were having a conversation with the mutual understanding that the contents of that conversation were confidential. Imagine you found out that the government was recording this private conversation. You had the right to demand that the government produce a warrant, a document demonstrating probable cause to a judge that a crime is being or has been committed. If there wasn’t a warrant, you had the ability to kick the government’s collective ass out of your business, demanding that it purge its records. You also could punish the government for violating your rights by suing its collective ass off.

Now imagine a time after the passage of the FISA Amendments Act. Say, this morning. Imagine that you and your husband, or you and your priest, or you and your doctor, or you and your lawyer, or you and a journalist were having a conversation with the mutual understanding that the contents of that conversation were confidential. Imagine you found out that the government was recording this private conversation. Tough luck, kiddo. Sure, the Constitution still says the government can’t bust in our your business — but the Constitution is more like a suggestion than a binding document these days. Under the unconstitutional law that’s in effect now, the government doesn’t have to show you jack, and even if the government’s own secret court says you’ve been done wrong, the government can keep whatever information it gets.

There’s no escape clause for conversations with your spouse or priest or doctor or lawyer. There’s no exception for journalists talking with sources. Confidentiality is out the window. Kiss your privacy bye-bye.

What are you going to do about it? For once, I’m not talking about political action like contacting members of Congress or marching in the street or writing letters to the editor. I’m talking about what you’re going to do in your personal life. With the presumption of confidentiality gone, how will you personally react?

One reaction might be to do nothing and hope: hope that whatever pieces of information you wish nobody knew will stay private. That worked really well for Eliot Spitzer, didn’t it? Remember how his career was ended: when a wiretap directed at someone else indirectly implicated him in another matter. What information could end your career? You could always hope for the best.

A second reaction might be to clamp down on all the information you possess and transfer. No more phone conversations. No talking in your house, or near public buildings that might have listening equipment, or on public transportation. Encoded e-mails.

A third reaction might be to let the most personal details of your life become public now. Let it all out when and how you see fit, let whatever embarrassment comes pass over you, then live free of the possibility of extortion or intimidation or other manipulation.

What are you going to do now that you have no privacy left?

9 comments to Confidentiality Goes Out the Window With the FISA Amendments Act. What Will You Do Now?

  • Horatio

    As for myself, I’m not self-censoring – except that I’m not sending any passwords and usernames in the same medium, much less the same message. User name on the phone, and passwords by email, for example.

    Also, if there’s something I want secret, I’ll say it outside, or write it on paper – although there’s always the chance that there’s a government bug in someone’s clothing, or using a cell phone that’s outside with us…

    We can’t escape it. We will be brought down by it, unless this is ended soon.

    I can’t believe that this is the new normal.

  • Bob S-K

    I’ve been thinking recently that the concept of non-secretive government may have come and gone. Governments throughout history have behaved this way, but we were all raised to believe that our government was somehow different. It was, for a while (a short 200 years–a mere blink relative to the span of human history), but I’m finding as I talk to people about the recent FISA issue, that even folks who call themselves progressives aren’t much concerned. Those of us who care about this are, apparently, freaks, both now and in the context of the timeline of civilization. It may be time to face that.

  • Fruktata

    Yeah. Liberty was an anomaly. Freedom can’t be expected any more.

    Most Americans really don’t want to be free. They just want to be secure and comfy.

  • Tom

    i’m beginning to see that the state of affairs we’re in now is a direct result of our government creating agencies like the CIA, NSA, etc. which are unaccountable to us, are funded by our tax dollars and have jurisdiction everywhere. Now, “the gloves are off” as it were, and the government is just acknowledging what we’ve suspected all along. We as citizens no longer “count” as anything other than manipulated pawns. Yeah, folks, the blinders are off now and you can see your democracy for the sham that it is. Corporate Amerikkka has taken over and you can kiss your Constitution and your so-called Bill of “Rights” good-bye. You only THINK you’re free. Start some noticeable trouble and they’ll find you and make you disappear.

  • Luv in Ca

    Oh, God…I may not like the FISA issue but this is a bit paranoid….use some common sense here….

  • Luv, can you explain just what is paranoid? All you’re doing is making an empty assertion, with no arguments, and no facts to back it up.

    Have you read the FISA Amendments Act, Luv? Have you, or are you just accepting what they tell you on cable TV news shows?

  • Luv in Ca

    At this point, WE can do nothing about it. It’s law. and the law doesn’t affect us directly. We can’t do some cival disobidence to it like not follow it or something. It’s out of the regular citizens hands. At this point being paranoid about it will do nothing to change it we need to get rid of those that voted for it. And as I see it Obama voted for it and Clinton and McCain didn’t. So for me the choice is clear. I am working on finding out as many of the Super delegates that are known and I’m sending emails to convince them on putting Clinton in instead of Obama.

  • Oh, I see. You can’t explain what is paranoid about trying to engage activists about the FISA Amendments Act. You’ll just repeat the charge without basis again.

    As candidates are democratically elected, we can do something about it. The law does affect us directly, and we can do civil disobedience if we choose.

  • Jim

    Only a person who is not aware of the American history of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s would call concern with government surveillance programs “paranoid.”

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