Voting in a 301 to 118 decision the US House of Representatives has gone in support of the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012. This controversial bill is basically extending the US government’s previously established warrantless wiretapping programs for the next 5 years and has angered privacy advocates and civil liberties campaigners.
The amendments to FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) will protect the government’s far-reaching powers to allow warrantless wiretapping of phone, email and other forms of communications.
Ironically, FISA was originally introduced to prevent American citizens from being spied upon after the 1978 scandal that discovered that Nixon’s administration were using US intelligence agencies to target activists and political opponents. But since then, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and FISA Amendment Act of 2008 has seen the government’s powers for surveillance expand greatly.
A secret judicial body called a FISA court oversees these surveillance activities however little is known about how effective these courts are because their actions are hidden from the public and Congress making any criticism of their methods or tactics extremely difficult.
One of the bill’s many opponents, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler said:
“Many U.S. citizens, and others who have nothing to do with foreign intelligence gathering, are caught up in this surveillance, and government has an obligation to protect their rights…The American people deserve better, and Congress has an obligation to exert more control over spy agencies than simply to give them a blank check for another five years.”
Former NSA codebreaker William Binney is another outspoken critic on the subject of the US government’s surveillance tactics. Binney left the NSA in 2001 stating that he was unhappy with the sharp shift from foreign intelligence to domestic spying after the events of 9/11. At the Def Con hacker’s conference in July, Binney said: “NSA’s charter was to do foreign intelligence, and I was with that all the way…But then they took those systems that I built and they turned them on you, and I’m sorry about that.”
But despite ardent opposition from both politicians and the public, both presidential candidates have voiced their support for the bill, claiming the powers are necessary to protect the American public from terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued the Department of Justice (DOJ), demanding answers about illegal email and telephone call surveillance at the National Security Agency (NSA).
“As Congress gears up to reconsider the FAA, the American public needs to know how the law has been misused,” said EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel in a statement. “The DOJ should follow the law and release this information to the American public.”
(Via The Verge)