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.