The FISA Amendments Act was a law passed to wipe clean and cover up violations of the law under President George W. Bush. Bush had begun spying on American citizens using the Internet, illegally demanding that telecommunications companies hand over to him massive amounts of data on millions of Americans, without any search warrant. The FISA Amendments Act retroactively legalized Bush’s actions, and established a new electronic spying regime against Americans by their own government.
Under the FISA Amendments Act, reasonable restrictions to electronic surveillance have been smashed. The federal government makes claims that it never abuses its spying power into our cell phones, computers, and online accounts, but the government’s claims have not been substantiated. We’re being asked to simply take it on faith that Big Brother and Barack Obama are only spying on Americans when it’s a really good idea.
That’s not how things are supposed to work here in the United States of America. We have a Constitution that guarantees absolute legal rights. The Fourth Amendment to that Constitution reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The FISA Amendments Act was originally set to expire years ago, given its extraordinary powers. However, Congress renewed the law, with a new expiration date of the end of this month. Earlier this year, members of Congress began the push to renew the FISA Amendments Act yet again, saying that Americans can never be safe unless the federal government has the power to search through their computer records at whim.
Barack Obama said he wanted to sign legislation renewing the FISA Amendments Act. The House of Representatives passed a bill renewing the FISA Amendments Act, without reforms. The Senate prepared to do so as well… but then got distracted by campaign season, during which many senators felt obligated to get off of Capitol Hill to beg money from wealthy donors. The original plan was to pass an extension of the FISA Amendments Act in November or December, after Election Day.
They weren’t counting on the drama of what some propagandists are calling, in a flourish of dramatic hyperbole, “The Fiscal Cliff”. Congress and the White House are so busy fighting about issues of budgets and taxation that all other matters, including the FISA Amendments Act, seem to be forgotten. There has been no mention at all of the FISA Amendments Act in the Congressional Record since August.
Given this distracted silence on the issue, two things could plausibly happen:
1. The FISA Amendments Act is allowed to expire, and arguments begin about whether to reinstate the law in 2013.
2. The FISA Amendments Act renewal is quickly passed by the Senate, with little warning, and with little attention from the mainstream corporate news media.
I’m hoping for the first possibility, because it places the burden on supporters of the law to provide evidence for why it should be put back into place. My guess is, however, that the second possibility is much more likely to come to pass.
Keep your eyes open. The federal government certainly is.