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Congress Has Lost Grip Over FISA Amendments Act Spying

We don’t know the precise date yet, but sometime soon, H.R. 5949, a bill to extend the extreme unconstitutional spying powers created by the FISA Amendments Act, will come to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The FISA Amendments Act allows the U.S. government to capture massive amounts of data, including phone calls, credit card purchases, emails, and Internet traffic, made by Americans within the United States. The Americans are never told that they have been spied on, but their private information is kept by the government in a gigantic data storage unit, where it can be searched by law enforcement.

Members of Congress who have requested information about the electronic surveillance network have been stonewalled by both the Bush Administration and Obama Administration. What’s more, a recent meeting of the House Judiciary Committee revealed that Congress is so profoundly out of the loop on the application of FISA Amendments Act spying powers that its members rely on newspaper clippings to try to piece together how spy agencies are using the surveillance powers against Americans.

During the hearing, John Conyers reminded the committee of evidence that the powers of the FISA Amendments Act were being frequently abused by government officials. The source of the evience wasn’t any official government oversight program. It wasn’t a congressional committee. The governmental mechanisms that are supposed to ensure the protection of Americans’ constitutional rights had totally failed to discover, report, or control the massive government surveillance programs created under the FISA Amendments Act. Only a writer at the New York Times was able to discover and expose the plague of abusive spying against Americans under the FISA Amendments Act… and even then, Congress refused to act to stop the problem.

In response to the citation of the New York Times investigation by Representative Conyers, Republican Representative Dan Lungren could only reply, “I realize that in some quarters the best way to find classified information is to read the front page of the New York Times.”

Those “quarters” include the members of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Why?

Should newspaper articles be best way for members of Congress to find out about the classified programs they are constitutionally obligated to oversee? Shouldn’t the people who are operating the Big Brother electronic surveillance network at least provide information to officials in Congress?

The spying of the FISA Amendments Act is out of control. Congress doesn’t know what’s going on. The people who are gathering Americans’ private information, listening to phone calls, reading emails, snooping online, all without a search warrant, won’t allow members of the legislative branch of government to reasonably ensure that basic constitutional protections are in place.

Right now, Americans cannot reasonably conclude that their private papers are truly private. They have to assume that their telephone calls and emails may be read by government agents. The kind of frequent surveillance created under the FISA Amendments Act is particularly threatening given Americans’ increasing reliance on electronic communication devices. It’s not just telephone calls that are being secretly searched and seized by government spies. It’s family photographs and videos. It’s appointment calendars. It’s personal text messages. It’s GPS location, moment to moment throughout the day.

This massive unreasonable search and seizure is not at all in accord with the 4th Amendment guarantee of privacy. That’s why it is extremely important that American citizens take a stand, and tell their congressional representatives and senators to vote NO on the legislation to renew the FISA Amendments Act spying against Americans.

Call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Every American has one representative in the U.S. House and two senators. Call all three using this number, and ask them to vote AGAINST H.R. 5949 and S. 3276.

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