Federal Government Invades Privacy
As Americans throughout the country were getting ready to celebrate the New Year, members of Congress were preparing to extend a bill that has had a very negative effect on our privacy. Congress gave final approval to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which allows the government to intercept electronic communications of spy and terrorism suspects without a warrant. Critics say that the bill has the problem of opening up all electronic communications to the government’s ears, whether from terrorist suspects or innocent citizens.
The extension has drawn criticism from both sides of the political aisle, including Oregon Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Republican Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Lisa Murkowski. Their view of the bill is that it could allow the government to make a warrantless search of any American’s communication, and the bill is full of loopholes.
Proponents of the bill say there are no loopholes and the bill is necessary to protect the country. The bill, passed in 1978, was changed in 2008 to add new surveillance authority and procedures, and this authority is what was extended in 2012. The changes were put in place after learning that President George W. Bush had authorized warrantless eavesdropping within the United States.
While the bill is geared towards identifying people with terrorist ties, the bill allows for “categorization” of people—meaning that if a person is from a certain country or of a certain ethnicity, that person has no privacy in their communications, regardless of whether the government has probable cause to believe that the person is a terrorist or spy.
As Senator Wyden stated, these laws remind him of the “general warrants that so upset the colonists” more than 200 years ago. In this time of sensitive national security, we must not forget that the Constitution is all the more important to protect against abuse that comes from a watchful government.