DRINK PROGRESS

The government has made it legal to watch you

Posted on | July 7, 2013 | No Comments

One of the most disturbing factors in the NSA scandal is that nothing was done—illegally. All of the spying, the monitoring of Facebook and other networks, the collection and distribution of vast quantities of data, were all made legal by the same government doing them.

Many people see the Supreme Court and other district courts as being the last letter of the law. But the court you don’t know about is the court that’s involved in this: the Foreign Intelligence Service Court (known as FISA).

The 11-member court “was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come”.

Seems like every government program—starts off small and narrow in focus, ends up becoming bloated and way beyond what anyone promised at the outset.

The FISA Court has determined that “special needs” override the Fourth Amendment, which protects you from unwarranted searches and seizures. And it’s another example of how a small, pointed government ruling got blown completely out of proportion:

The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.

This would be like if the Supreme Court ruled that it’s ok to take away guns from people who have a history of mental instability and are also pilots, and then the FISA court used that to take guns from everyone else. The justification? Well, how do we know other people aren’t mentally unstable and going to pilot school someday?

The worst part is that this FISA Court truly is the Bizarro to the Supreme Court’s Superman—even in how it’s set up:

Unlike the Supreme Court, the FISA court hears from only one side in the case — the government — and its findings are almost never made public. A Court of Review is empaneled to hear appeals, but that is known to have happened only a handful of times in the court’s history, and no case has ever been taken to the Supreme Court.

Well, that’s just great. A one-sided court that sets its own rules and is beholden to nobody.

According to the government, it’s now legal to watch you at any and all times, because something could happen by anyone at any minute. And that, folks, is how things have gotten completely out of control.

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