As noted before, I do not like the growing police state tendencies in America as most recently revealed in the NSA's sweeping surveillance operations that despite claims to the contrary to pull American citizens into the web of communications being monitored and in some cases being turned over to other police and law enforcement agencies. I am all for stopping terrorists, but when American citizens are subject to the same levels of surveillance as on finds in China, Russia and Iran, something seriously wrong has happened to freedom in this country. A column in the Washington Post looks at why the NSA surveillance of Americans is likely unconstitutional. Here are excerpts:
The National Security Agency’s recently revealed surveillance programs undermine the purpose of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was established to prevent this kind of overreach. They violate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. And they underscore the dangers of growing executive power.The intelligence community has a history of overreaching in the name of national security. In the mid-1970s, it came to light that, since the 1940s, the NSA had been collecting international telegraphic traffic from companies, in the process obtaining millions of Americans’ telegrams that were unrelated to foreign targets. From 1940 to 1973, the CIA and the FBI engaged in covert mail-opening programs that violated laws prohibiting the interception or opening of mail. The agencies also conducted warrantless “surreptitious entries,” breaking into targets’ offices and homes to photocopy or steal business records and personal documents. The Army Security Agency intercepted domestic radio communications. And the Army’s CONUS program placed more than 100,000 people under surveillance, including lawmakers and civil rights leaders.
Congress passed the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to limit sweeping collection of intelligence and create rigorous oversight. But 35 years later, the NSA is using this law and its subsequent amendments as legal grounds to run even more invasive programs than those that gave rise to the statute.We’ve learned that in April, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordered Verizon to provide information on calls made by each subscriber over a three-month period. Over the past seven years, similar orders have been served continuously on AT&T, Sprint and other telecommunications providers.
Another program, PRISM, disclosed by the Guardian and The Washington Post, allows the NSA and the FBI to obtain online data including e-mails, photographs, documents and connection logs. The information that can be assembledabout any one person — much less organizations, social networks and entire communities — is staggering: What we do, think and believe.
To the extent that the FISC sanctioned PRISM, it may be consistent with the law. But it is disingenuous to suggest that millions of Americans’ e-mails, photographs and documents are “incidental” to an investigation targeting foreigners overseas.
Under section 215 of the Patriot Act, the government no longer has to prove that the target is a foreign power. It need only state that the records are sought as part of an investigation to protect against terrorism or clandestine intelligence.How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”
As a constitutional matter, the Supreme Court has long held that, where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, search and seizure may occur only once the government has obtained a warrant, supported by probable cause and issued by a judge. The warrant must specify the places to be searched and items to be seized.
[T]he Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment does not protect foreigners from searches conducted abroad. But it has never recognized a foreign intelligence exception to the warrant requirement when foreign-targeted searches result in the collection of vast stores of citizens’ communications. Americans reasonably expect that their movements, communications and decisions will not be recorded and analyzed by the government.
The FISC is supposed to operate as a check. But it is a secret court, notorious for its low rate of denial. From 1979 to 2002, it did not reject a single application. Over the past five years, out of nearly 8,600 applications, only two have been denied.
Liberal or conservative, Americans who value freedom ought to be very concerned about what is happening in the name of national security. I suspect these concerns are what motivate Edward Snowden to release the information that he did.