Surveillance Powers in Limbo as Lawmakers Focus on COVID-19
Lawmakers have decided not to renew a set of controversial surveillance provisions that expired on March 15th.
The provisions, enacted in response to 9/11, allow authorities to easily obtain wiretaps and to access a wide variety of business records. The provisions are easily abused and frequently criticized.
In early March, House lawmakers passed a measure that would have renewed the surveillance tools and made changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to address the abuses committed during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign; namely the wiretap on Carter Page. The House measure also sought to end an already deactivated NSA program that allowed the agency to obtain Americans’ call and text records.
The Senate, preoccupied with coronavirus legislation, passed an extension to renew the surveillance powers for 77 days but did not vote on the House measure. House lawmakers did not consider the Senate’s proposal before departing Washington on March 27th, leaving the fate of the surveillance tools unknown.
Lawmakers are unlikely to convene in full until late April, or perhaps later, as they return home to comply with social distancing recommendations.
“Clearly, the sky hasn’t fallen,” says Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “What we are seeing is that the intelligence community has turned into the boy who cried wolf, because they are always painting the most dire picture if they lose an authority.”
Indeed, authorities are already complaining about their inability to renew roving wiretaps and to obtain business records related to national security investigations.
“The House legislation includes important reforms to FISA and reauthorizes national security tools that we would have used, but have not in the weeks since the law expired,” argues John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division.
Editor’s note: Unfortunately, it is likely these will eventually get renewed. But these are artifacts of 9/11, very dangerous, and likely to be abused more and more.
The theory is that when the government gets too much power, it used that power to defeat its enemies and stay in power. This is the very definition of tyranny. The Obama Administration abused its power numerous times, including launching an investigation again the Trump Campaign. And if Hillary Clinton had been elected, we would never have known.