FISA Memo Surfaces After FISA Reauthorization

On Jan. 19., Congress voted 65-34 to extend the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, for another six years. Both North Dakota Sens. Hoeven and Heidkamp even voted in favor of the extension.

President Trump, as many expected him to do, signed the bill into law Jan. 19. The FISA, for those who don’t know, is a U.S. federal law that was passed in 1978 and allows federal law enforcement to collect and survey “foreign intelligence information” that has passed between “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers” suspected of terrorism, espionage and other crimes. The original purpose of the law was to give the U.S. government the ability to more easily survey and catch Russian spies during the Cold War. Since its creation, FISA has been amended multiple times, most notably after the 9/11 attacks. Section 702 of the Act reads as follows:

“The Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence may authorize jointly … the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

Now some may say that this statute is perfectly legal and even just. What could possibly be wrong with the executive branch attempting to stop possible foreign threats from harming the United States? The Constitution doesn’t even apply to foreigners, so why worry about the NSA monitoring and poking through electronic communications? FISA even contains safeguards that state that the government cannot “intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.”

But the issue arises when one looks at how the FBI and NSA go about this electronic surveillance. Not only is the government allowed to sort through and observe communications involving a suspected foreign threat, but also any communications about a suspected foreign threat.

If you were to, say, write an email and send it to your friend mentioning a recent terrorist attack, the NSA or FBI has the ability to sort through your entire email and phone call history because of FISA. FISA even permits physical searches of property, with requirements and procedures almost identical to the electronic searches. The FBI and NSA also gets to do all of this borderline illegal surveillance and collecting of information, both physical and electronic, without a warrant.

That’s right, the government gets to spy on you and sort through your property without any warrant.

FISA also established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC. This court is staffed by 11 unelected judges who hear evidence presented solely by the Department of Justice; said information is not required to be made public and no record is kept of any of the court’s cases. The FISC can issue court orders and warrants, but as I stated above, these aren’t required for agencies like the FBI and NSA to search through property and information.

Despite how blatantly unconstitutional FISA and other surveillance laws like the Patriot Act are, they’ve received very little media attention compared to other issues (and non-issues). Luckily for Americans, 200 members of Congress have recently received and read through a memo about alleged FISA abuses committed by the Obama administration.

While no specifics have been made public, Republican lawmakers who have read it claim that the memo is “shocking,” among other things. Their Democrat counterparts have opposed the public release of the Obama administration’s FISA abuses for obvious reasons.

FISA and the Patriot Act are both unconstitutional and need to be abolished. They both blatantly violated the Fourth Amendment, which states that American citizens are protected against “unreasonable search and seizures.”

Among other things, this amendment dictates that law enforcement needs a warrant if they want to search through your private information and property. Why any American who values personal liberty and autonomy would be in favor of warrantless surveillance and seizure of property by unelected government bureaucrats is beyond me.

Why anyone would trust the government, especially one as large and powerful as our own, is beyond me. Why the NSA or FBI feel the need to sort through my private electronic communications and information just because I ordered pizza from a Dominoes that some suspected terrorist’s uncle’s sister’s former college roommate also happened to order from is beyond me. Americans should not have to give up one of their most important Constitutional rights and put themselves at the mercy of a government, especially the United States federal government.

As Benjamin Franklin, one of our most influential and intelligent Founding Fathers said during the inception of our great country:

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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