Between surveillance drone proposals, police state tactics, the NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions, and the ever-burgeoning internet surveillance state, the disparity between perceived freedoms and those eviscerated by these policies continues to grow. The encroachment has been incremental since the PATRIOT Act, but the most telling aspect of all these actions by the government is how hard they have fought to keep and expand them. There is no representation anymore; it is only now a farcical ‘keep the truth away’ game, and betweens catastrophic hurricanes and $2 billion liar pageants, it has become easy to do just that.
The latest evidence comes from a Supreme Court case which began today, dealing with the normalization and pervasive nature of surveillance in 21st century America, perpetrated by the government.
Even a New York Times editorial can see the potential implications…
“…it would foreclose any meaningful judicial review of the warrantless wiretapping statute, perhaps permanently. The damage to the nation’s system of checks and balances, which relies on independent court scrutiny of laws as a safeguard against legislative and executive branch overreaching that disrespects constitutional rights, would be serious.”
The ACLU appeared before the Supreme Court this morning to argue for the right of Americans to challenge a law that instituted a far-reaching and unconstitutional surveillance regime. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 dramatically expanded the government’s authority to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and emails, to store these communications indefinitely in huge databases, and to share them with other agencies with few restrictions.
The question before the justices today was—from one perspective—a narrow one: whether our clients have legal “standing” to challenge the law. But it is also about the ability of the executive and legislative branched to insulate a policy from meaningful judicial review.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Clapper v. Amnesty, include attorneys and human rights, labor, legal, and media organizations, and their work requires sensitive and at times privileged international communications. The FISA Amendments Act permits the government to conduct dragnet secret surveillance of Americans’ international communications—that is, surveillance that is not limited to a specific person and may go on for up to one year without any court approval. In this way, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 has created a new surveillance regime that is starkly different from the particularized surveillance of the past.
Opening remarks of today’s hearing
continue reading the full remarks
This isn’t the first case attempting to penetrate the broad, unconstitutional “state secrets” surveillance privilege. The Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s case was recently dismissed.
Just three weeks ago the Supreme Court closed a six-year-old chapter in the Electronic Frontier Foundations’s bid to hold the nation’s telecoms liable for allegedly providing the National Security Agency with backdoors to eavesdrop, without warrants, on American’s electronic communications in violation of federal law. The justices, without comment, declined to review a lower court’s December decision dismissing the EFF’s lawsuit. At the center of the dispute was legislation retroactively immunizing the telcos from being sued for cooperating with the government in Bush’s warrantless spy program.
Regardless of which party will reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the next 4 years, the powers continue to grow, unabated, while civil liberties are tossed aside. Until Americans realize the surveillance grid isn’t a partisan affair, and also isn’t solely for the contrived war on terror, the Bill of Rights is in peril.
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