Congress Has Enough Time to Keep Spying on You, Forever


Good morning, misgoverned nation! You will be utterly unsurprised to learn that the same United States Senate that hasn't passed a (legally required) budget resolution since 2009, that legislates via perpetual self-made crises and lards nearly all laws with brazenly fictitious sunset provisions and distant spending cuts, has managed to fit into its busy schedule of anti-gun press conferences and drunk-driving arrests an "unusual special session" to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 before the law turns into a pumpkin on Jan. 1.

The Act, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) had attempted to re-authorize without debate, allows for the federal government to spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant, without probable cause, and without even informing the allegedly relevant oversight bodies in Congress as to the number of Americans being spied on.

The Senate re-authorization debate yesterday lasted seven hours, and resulted in the shooting down of three sensible amendments. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) attempted to cut the proposed extension from five years to three; that lost 52-38. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) proposed requiring the attorney general to disclose "significant" FISA court interpretations of surveillance law; that lost 54-37. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) proposed extending Fourth Amendment protections to electronic communications. Paul's amendment was routed:

"Why is a phone call more deserving of privacy protection than an e-mail?" Paul asked on the Senate floor.

Paul's amendment, co-sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, was voted down 79 to 12.

Watch Rand Paul's speech about the degraded Fourth Amendment here:

A fourth and final amendment, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), calling for intelligence-agency estimates for the number of Americans spied on, will likely die on the Senate floor today, clearing the final obstruction to passage. Some nauseating passages from The Hill:

"I think, when you talk about oversight, and you can't even get a rough estimate of how many law-abiding Americans had their communications swept up by this law… the idea of robust oversight, really ought to be called toothless oversight if you don't have that kind of information," Wyden said on the floor Thursday morning.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said those incidences have been "few" and "inadvertent." She urged her colleagues not to support any of the amendments because she said the bill would then have to be reconsidered by the House. She said unless the House version passed, surveillance would halt after Dec. 31, posing a threat to national security.

"Without Senate action these authorities expire in four days and that's the reason the House bill is before us," Feinstein said before the amendment votes Thursday. […]

"There is a view of some that this country no longer needs to fear attacks — I don't share that view."

The persistence of such low demagoguery a dozen years after Sept. 11 suggests a truism that covers both the National Security State and the Fiscal Cliff: Congress, and the Leviathan it nurtures, requires constant crisis like a whale requires krill. As ever, the Senate needs more Rand Pauls and Ron Wydens, fewer Dianne Feinsteins and other Dick Cheney wannabees.