On Wednesday, September 12th, the House of Representatives voted 301-118 to extend the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for another five years, despite continuing secrecy, unanswered questions, and concerns from across the political spectrum about its sweeping invasions of privacy.
When originally passed, FISA was meant to curtail the federal government’s surveillance practices. Over the years, provisions for dragnet surveillance have been expanded, particularly since 2002. During the Bush administration, the National Security Agency began a warrantless wiretapping scheme hatched in secret, and in such clear violation of FISA that Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to authorize it and Justice Department officials threatened to resign en masse.
When the program was first revealed to the public in 2005, by New York Times journalists who risked prosecution to reveal state secrets, it caused an earthquake in Washington. However, in 2008, Congress amended FISA to essentially permit what the original statute prohibited. Since then, the program has continued to operate in secret, drawing widespread concerns as the NSA has escalated its war on privacy and the Constitution.
In response to questions from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Director of National Intelligence has even admitted that the NSA’s activities violated the Constitution, and the incredibly permissive limits of FISA, on at least one occasion.
The House’s vote to reauthorize the 2008 FISA amendments is beyond troubling. Many legislators and concerned Americans have called for greater transparency in the interpretation of this law, and how it has been applied. Yet the NSA has continuously denied requests to reveal information about how many Americans have been monitored.
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