The New York Times Reminds Us the NSA Still Warrantlessly Wiretaps Americans, and Congress Has the Power to Stop It
Last week, the New York Times published two important op-eds highlighting how the National Security Agency (NSA) has retained expansive powers to warrantlessly wiretap Americans after Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. And unlike in 2005—when the exposure of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program provoked widespread outrage—Congress is now all but ignoring ample evidence of wrongdoing, as it debates renewing the FISA Amendments Act before it expires at the end of this year.
The first op-ed published by the Times, written by longtime national security reporter Shane Harris, recounts the controversy over the Orwellian-sounding “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) spying program proposed by former national security advisor John Poindexter in the aftermath of 9/11. The TIA aimed to “scan the world’s electronic information — including phone calls, e-mails and financial and travel records” and was widely condemned for allowing wholesale violations of Americans’ privacy. Congress, which had been more than willing to weaken privacy protections in the name of national security in other areas, voted to dismantle the program in 2003, acknowledging it went too far.
Yet, as Harris describes, “Total Information Awareness” is alive and well within the NSA. The NSA has adopted nearly all of the TIA’s features into its warrantless wiretapping program, except for two: “an application that would ‘anonymize’ data, so that information could be linked to a person only through a court order; and a set of audit logs, which would keep track of whether innocent Americans’ communications were getting caught in a digital net.”
In other words, the NSA is currently operating the same program Congress explicitly rejected over privacy concerns, with even fewer privacy protections than the original program called for.
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Given the alleged loophole that allows the NSA to collect Americans’ communications without a warrant, the credible reports that the NSA has even unconstitutionally exceeded that authority, and the fact that the FISA court does not review whether communications of Americans are actually being collected, Congress has a responsibility to act now and not wait for the resolution of lengthy judicial cases. The FISA Amendment Act needs to be overhauled or voted down; Americans’ constitutional rights hang in the balance.