House To Vote On FISA Amendments Act, Despite Not Even Knowing How It's Being Interpreted

from the this-is-ridiculous dept

This is getting more ridiculous by the day. We've been covering how the NSA refuses to admit how many Americans are being spied upon via a secret interpretation of the FISA Amendments Act -- and how Congress' response is to pretend that as long as they stick their head in the sand, the NSA couldn't possibly be abusing the law. Rep. Dan Lungren literally said that he sees no reason to be worried because he hasn't seen any evidence that it's being used to spy on Americans. But that's only true if you are being willfully blind. The NSA has refused basic requests to reveal non-confidential info, ridiculously claiming it would violate the privacy of Americans to admit how many Americans were being spied upon. Meanwhile, Julian Sanchez's attempt to reveal some info via a Freedom of Information Act request is being stonewalled by the feds.

And yet Congress still wants to move forward. The House is planning to vote on extending the FISA Amendments Act in the next day or two, despite the fact that the vast majority of elected officials do not have the information on how the law is being interpreted and those who are in the know have hinted very, very, very strongly that it is being widely abused. Now, if Congress actually represented the public, it might try to stop this process and ask for some of the details. Instead, it seems to be focused on just re-upping support for this tool that has more or less enabled domestic spying on Americans.

After four years, you’d hope that some basic information or parameters of such a massive spying program would be divulged to the public, or at least your rank-and-file member of Congress, but they haven’t.  Only a small handful of members have either personally attended classified briefings or have staff with high enough clearances to attend for them.  Sen. Ron Wyden—who has been on the Senate Intelligence Committee for years—has even been stonewalled by the Obama administration for a year and a half in his attempts to learn basic information about the program, such as the number of Americans who have had their communications intercepted under the FAA. 

Yet the House ambles on, ready to rubber stamp another five years of expansive surveillance that can pick up American communications without meaningful judicial oversight and without probable cause or any finding of wrongdoing.  Instead of blind faith in the executive branch, every member of the House should demand that the administration publicly disclose the following before proceeding with reauthorization:

  • Copies of FISA court opinions interpreting our Fourth Amendment rights under the FAA, with redactions to protect sensitive information (the Department of Justice can write summaries of law if necessary);
  • A rough estimate of how many Americans are surveilled under the FAA every year;
  • A description of the rules that govern how American information picked up by FAA surveillance is protected.
  • Can you believe that 435 members of Congress who have sworn to uphold the Constitution are about to vote on a sweeping intelligence gathering law without this basic information?

    If you find this worrisome (and you should), the ACLU has set up an an action page to contact your elected officials and ask them to do their jobs and find out the details before just rubber-stamping the extension of the FISA Amendments Act.

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    1. identicon
      Pixelation, 12 Sep 2012 @ 1:16pm

      Response from Feinstein

      Dear (Pixelation),

      I received your letter and want to thank you for expressing your concerns about government surveillance authorities. I recognize that this is an important issue to you, and I welcome the opportunity to share my points of view.



      I believe that law enforcement and the intelligence community need the authorities in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to collect intelligence information necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and protect our nation. Under FISA, surveillance authorities are subject to judicial oversight from the FISA Court, require approvals from senior officials in the Executive Branch, and are subject to full oversight by the Department of Justice and the Congress.



      As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can assure you that oversight of the government's surveillance authorities is a major priority for these Committees.



      I supported the FISA Extensions Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-3), which Congress passed on May 26, 2011 to extend three provisions in FISA—known as "roving wiretaps," "lone wolf," and "business records" provisions—until June 1, 2015. I believe these are important counterterrorism tools, and that the expiration of these authorities would reduce our security.



      During the debate, I pledged, as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to hold hearings in that Committee on the uses of these three provisions and other FISA authorities, and those hearings have taken place. I intend to hold further hearings this year to continue considering FISA authorities and whether they should be extended.



      Be assured that I recognize your concerns about the transparency and oversight of the Government's surveillance authorities. Like you, I strongly believe in transparent government, and protecting Americans' personal privacy rights. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the amount of transparency possible when discussing classified intelligence programs, which is why I believe that congressional oversight of these matters is vital.



      Again, thank you for your letter. Hearing your perspectives is very helpful to me. Should you have any additional comments or questions, please contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841.


      Sincerely yours,


      Dianne Feinstein
      United States Senator

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