Last night US Congress approved a short term budget measure to fund the United States Government into January 2018, narrowly avoiding the countries 3rd credit default of 2017. While this is indubitably the biggest headline to come out of the night, I want to talk about something else which was included in the passage of this “financial spending bill.” I am talking about Congresses decision to re-authorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and NSA PRISM Programs.
Now that these programs have been re-authorized, they will remain in effect for the next 4 years until Congress once again debates the value of their existence in 2021. Had Congress failed to re-authorize them, these programs would have been terminated and abandoned altogether. This would have also involved the logistical nightmare of re-assigning thousands of Federal employees and transferring hundreds of millions of dollars in funding away from the programs once they had been canceled.
See Full Bill Here – H.R.4478: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/4478/text
The re-authorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows branches of the Federal Government to get warrants for information essentially in live time, without having to deal with lengthy or “pesky” Judicial proceedings. Quite literally, the FISA was first created in 1978 in order to circumvent the public court proceedings and judicial process, fast-tracking Federal officials to gain an advantage in any/every potential investigation they may have.
However, as it is easy to imagine, this type of process can and does open the door towards potential abuses, which is why the constitution/our laws were first created in the first place and why it is so important to check up on and review these programs from time to time – even if they are technically “classified.” The fact of the matter is that it was Congresses job to conduct an internal investigation into the FISA Court and the general scope of Government Mass Surveillance this year and they have failed to do so. As a result, we may now have to wait another 4 years before we start having this debate all over again.
Why Is Yesterdays Decision “Controversial?”
First off, just to be clear what happened here, Congress has just passed off a Constitutional debate having to do with Judicial reform inside of a last minute, temporary budgetary spending Bill. Even though these issues have nothing whatsoever to do with one another on the surface, Congress is set to close for the year and decided to jam as many things as possible still left on their agendas for the year and put it all together within one last big bill. It just so happens that FISA and NSA re-authorization was one of those small last minute issues Congress decided to quietly jam through in what will be the last piece of Legislation passed in the calendar year 2017.
Why are FISA Courts & NSA PRISM “Controversial?”
Outside of the Patriot Act, nothing has contributed to the size and scope of Government Mass Surveillance more than the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the Court and judicial process established by it. Every year this court processes tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of warrant requests made by various Federal employees, agents and agencies. For example, the development and implementation of the NSA’s PRISM Program has only been made “legal” under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
However, according to statistics released in 2015 alone, the NSA has already “inadvertently” collected the personal telecommunications data of over 300 of the 330 million Americans currently living in the United States – and that is just one Federal agency. Between the FBI, DHS and any other three letter acronym you can possibly think of, hundreds of millions of people around the world and in the US are all “legally” hacked and spied upon as a result of the existence of this court, these laws and the loophole they provide.
What’s worse is that everything tied to this court is shielded in secrecy, because all of the information it handles is strictly “classified.” Meaning that Federal employees and officials whom work with the court do not legally have to answer any questions about what they do in public, even if/when they are being asked by other Federal officials. This is also why Privacy Hawks and Constitutionalists have all been waiting for years for the NSA and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to have its own day in court, or at least a Congressional inquire before re-authorization. Consequentially, this is also why it is so disappointing that Congress has just decided to re-authorized these programs last minute, without ever having one public debate, inquire or discussion about them.
If you would like to learn more about the FISA Court and why it has become such a large issue in 2017, you can learn more by following the link below: