Senate Debating Warrantless Domestic Spying Today; Vote Pending

If your post-holiday boredom has left you without a reason to get riled up (or perhaps the Fiscal Cliff "negotiations" just aren't enough), I invite you to watch the Senate debate on C-Span about renewing the FISA Amendments Act today. The FISA Act allows the government to get secret permission to spy on communications to and from Americans without having to prove probable cause in defiance of the Fourth Amendment.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been on top of the political machinations behind the renewal of the bill, such as the senators – among them Ron Wyden (who is currently speaking as I write this) and Rand Paul – working to change the laws to require warrants to collect private communications from Americans.

Here’s what EFF has to say about Wyden’s actions:

Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the most ardent defenders of civil liberties in the Senate, has been asking the NSA for months for information on how the FISA Amendments Act has impacted Americans.

The NSA has so far refused, yet, as the New York Times reported in 2009, we know the NSA was still intercepting domestic communications in a “significant and systematic” way. We also know the secret FISA court ruled, on at least one occasion, that the government had violated the Fourth Amendment when conducting surveillance under the FAA. Yet the NSA has rather unbelievably claimed releasing the number of Americans whose privacy has been violated would violate those same Americans’ privacy.

Ron Wyden’s amendment would force the NSA to come clean and give a general estimate of how many Americans have been affected by this unconstitutional bill, and finally give us information Americans deserve.

In addition, another Wyden amendment would clarify that the acquisition of American communications is prohibited without a warrant. Sen. Wyden has accused the government of conducting “backdoor searches,” whereby the government collects communications of foreign individuals talking to Americans, but later goes back into the government’s database of intercepted communications and reviews the Americans' comunications. Sen. Wyden hopes this clarification to the law will help guard against further intrusive spying on American communications.

And here is what Paul is up to:

Republican Senator Rand Paul has commendably been one of the few voices unequivocally denouncing the FISA Amendments Act as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. To that end, Sen. Paul will be introducing “the Fourth Amendment Protection Act” which will re-iterate that all US communications, whether sought by US intelligence agencies like the NSA or any government agency, are protected against unwarranted searches and seizures—even if they are held by third party email providers like Google.

A vote is expected today. The EFF reported earlier in the month that many senators were trying to get the amendments renewed without any debate at all.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I contacted my senators on this topic. The one in the party of civil liberties didn't respond, and the other told me that while my concerns were understandable, TERRORISTS!

  • robc||

    One of my senators is Rand Paul. Contacting him seems unnecessary.

    For that matter, contacting my other seems unnecessary too. Sigh.

  • CE||

    I have Feinstein and Boxer "representing" me in the Senate.... I wrote to one of them once on some libertarianish issue. Turned out to be a complete waste of time, as they responded with a form letter explaining how they would continue to violate my rights and their oath of office.

  • ||

    "The FISA Act allows the government to get secret permission to spy on communications to and from Americans without having to prove probable cause in defiance of the Fourth Amendment."

    In other words our government is engaging in criminal activity.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The EFF reported earlier in the month that many senators were trying to get the amendments renewed without any debate at all."

    That's easy to avoid.

    When it's time to debate, just get the flu, faint, and then suffer a concussion.

  • DJF||

    I think we need to test this out first. So we should have a pilot program where every Federal politician and top level bureaucrat should be watched 24 hours a day and their entire lives put on the internet. That way we can see after a 100 year pilot program whether to make it permanent.

    Regular people should not be part of the program since they are boring and unimportant.

  • Rich||

    Ron Wyden’s amendment would force the NSA to come clean and give a general estimate of how many Americans have been affected by this unconstitutional bill, and finally give us information Americans deserve.

    Sheesh, Ron, just put in an omnibus rider forcing the government to come clean on *everything*.

  • CE||

    Rand Paul FTW.

  • Jerryskids||

    ...all US communications, whether sought by US intelligence agencies like the NSA or any government agency, are protected against unwarranted searches and seizures—even if they are held by third party email providers like Google.

    Isn't this basically what the court in New Zealand said regarding searches and seizures in the Megaupload case? Maybe we need to file suits in New Zealand to get the US government to obey the law. They seem to understand the principle of the Fourth Amendment better than some Contitutional law professors I can think of.

  • Brett L||

    Grr. Must stop myself from blowing up at the EFF. They do great work on internet freedoms. Members are pretty routinely horrible about meatspace freedoms. Will try not to give in to the urge to value ideological purity over positive work on liberty.

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