The path taking America back to constitutional governance just got steeper. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Review Court, a panel of judges picked for their sympathy toward government prerogative, has unsurprisingly ruled it to be perfectly OK for the United States to search, watch and grab information on people without warrants, despite the mandate of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution that such activity can only be done with a target-specific warrant written out on the basis of probable cause. The general gist of the argument, we’re told, is that it’s OK because the law uses the word “foreign,” and it’s OK to do these things to foreigners. Never mind that under the Protect America Act and subsequent FISA Amendments Act, surveillance tools can be turned on Americans for periods of two months or longer without any warrants, much less any consequences for government agents who do so. The law has the word “Foreign” in it, and the government can do what it wants to a foreigner, so the government can do anything to an American as well.
No, I can’t get too particular about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Review Court ruling. Why? The text of the ruling is being censored and redacted, of course, for citizens’ own protection. Journalists have very nicely asked the Justice Department and the authoritarian FISA court to comment, and the Justice Department and FISA court have very firmly ignored them. So that’s all you’re going to know, citizen.
While the ruling itself will be redacted and censored, the effect of this ruling will be visible. Watch for Senators, cabinet members and Presidents to spring to the ruling, citing its conveniently invisible existence as a justification for the continuation of warrantless surveillance programs. Constitution, schmonstitution: a three-judge panel has said it’s all OK! And so the force needed to counter all this, to undo warrantless wiretapping will be even greater.
This is why it’s a bad idea for Americans to place ice packs on their worn-out voting finger, sit back, relax and depend on any politician — any Senator, any Secretary, any President — to restore respect for the Constitution in the policies and practices of our government. With every additional ruling in favor of warrantless wiretapping, the weight of consensus against the Bill of Rights grows heavier. People who care must get off their plush barcaloungered behinds and push, push, push in the opposite direction. A lot of people have to do this to achieve any effect, but it’s only a lot of people who can. There’s no superhero to fly in and employ magic superpowers to save the day; the Great Spandexed One voted against warrants.
So if you can make it, yes, come to the Inauguration Demonstration next Tuesday at the SW corner of Pennsylvania and 9th Street and as you watch our new President walk to his Oval Office remind him of his vow to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” And if you can’t make it, write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the FISA Amendments Act and your desire to see its damage to the supreme law of the land undone. After you’ve done that, head over to President-Elect Barack Obama’s Citizens Briefing Book entry calling for the repeal of the FISA Amendments Act and vote it up.
Then… well, think of something else! Visit Get FISA Right, post here, tell everyone about your idea, and get them moving on it. The vacation’s over. Get active.