Senate Finally Holds Weak 'Debate' On FISA Amendments Act... But Terrorism!

from the and-therefore-we-shouldn't-even-know-what's-going-on dept

While some in the Senate tried to skip over debate of the likely unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act, the Senate finally held a rushed and scripted "debate" today, which did very little to actually explore the issues (and the Senate Chamber was mostly empty during the "debate"). Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley did their best to raise significant issues, but Senator Dianne Feinstein kept shutting them down with bogus or misleading arguments, almost always punctuated with scary claims about how we had "only four days!" to renew the FISA Amendment Acts or "important" tools for law enforcement would "expire." It turns out that's not actually true. While the law would expire, the provisions sweeping orders already issued would remain in place for a year -- allowing plenty of time for a real debate.

Furthermore, Feinstein continued to mislead (bordering on outright lies) about the FISA Amendments Act. While some of the proposed amendments focused on finally forcing the secret interpretation of the FISA Amendments Act to be disclosed, Feinstein held up the text of the bill and insisted there "is no secret law" and that "the text is public." That assumes that "the law" and "the text of the legislation" are one and the same. They are not. As Julian Sanchez notes, imagine that Supreme Court rulings were all classified, how would you interpret the Constitution? You could make guesses, based on what the law said, but without the court's rulings, you would not know what that meant in practice. That's exactly the situation we have with the FISA Amendments Act... and it's made even worse by the fact that those who have seen the still-secret interpretation -- such as Senator Wyden -- have made it clear that its quite different than what most people think the law says.

Even more ridiculous is that the text of the FISA Amendments Act has been set since September. There's been plenty of time to actually debate these issues. Hell, last year's renewal for just one year was conditioned on the promise from the Senate that there would be debate this year. Yet they wait until December 27th to hold this fake "debate" with Feinstein spreading FUD up and down about how not renewing this for another five years means the terrorists win? This is a really shameful display of Congress caving to law enforcement's almost certainly unconstitutional desire to be able to widely spy on almost any information it can get its hands on, so long as they claim collecting that info might possibly somehow help in discovering illegal behavior by non-US citizens.

What's amazing is that those supporting the renewal of the FISA Amendments Act continue to take it on faith that the law is not being abused, even as there's already been an admission that some of the activities violated the 4th Amendment (but no further evidence of what happened or how that would be prevented), and even other tools that we were told were "proven" and "crucial" to the "war on terrorism" later turned out to be expensive boondoggles that were no help at all. Senator Saxby Chambliss was particularly ridiculous in this discussion, insisting that because there was that admission earlier this year that the 4th Amendment was abused, it shows that "oversight is working." This ignores that no further exploration followed to see how widespread the abuse was. Again, Julian Sanchez highlights just how ridiculous this is by noting that the fact that the argument is completely tautological in saying that oversight works because abuse has been discovered.

Congress has both the mandate and the obligation to oversee how law enforcement is using its surveillance powers -- and yet many of its members, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, appear to be abdicating that job due to OMG TERRRORISM!@#!@#!!

Update: And they just voted on Senator Leahy's amendment, which was a pretty simple one, just shortening the term of this extension from 5 years to 3 years. All it would do is require that the next debate on this happen sooner, rather than later, but it was voted down (52 to 38) by Senators who'd rather not even discuss the fact that they're allowing the NSA and other law enforcement officials to regularly violate the Constitution. Just punt that question as far down the field as possible, I guess.

Update: And, down goes another amendment. Senator Merkley's amendment would have "encouraged" that secret interpretations of the FISA Amendments Act made by the FISA court be made public (in redacted form). This seems like common sense, but the Senate voted it down (54 to 37) -- because, apparently they like secret laws which the public isn't even allowed to know about, even if it means the NSA can snoop on nearly all of their communications without a warrant.

Update: And there goes another one. Senator Rand Paul introduced an amendment clarifying that the 4th Amendment protects all of your communications. The Senate rejected it by an overwhelming margin, 79 to 12, because apparently protecting your privacy and upholding the 4th Amendment is not the kind of thing the Senate supports these days.

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  1. icon
    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), 27 Dec 2012 @ 5:57pm

    I wrote my senators via email explaining why I don't like FISA.

    Looks like no one snooped it.

    Either that, or the NSA snooped it and redirected it to an inbox in China.

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