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Fool Me Once, Shame On You; Continue to Fool Us Without Anyone in Power Doing the Right Thing, Shame On Congress

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June 19, 2009

The New York Times did what they do best this week with a story on the National Security Agency’s once again overstepping its bounds with its surveillance of your phone calls and emails. The story goes that the NSA is continuing its sweeping collection of our communications and, contrary to previous reporting, it’s much more pervasive than we thought. That’s shocking!

Wait…no. IT TOTALLY ISN’T.

The Times wrote in April that the NSA was going outside even the sweeping powers granted to it in the FISA Amendments Act (FAA).

For those of you late to the game, the FAA was passed last July despite opposition from the ACLU and other privacy advocates. The law effectively legalized the unlawful warrantless surveillance program President Bush approved in late 2001. It also gave the government new spying powers, including the power to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications.

The FAA didn’t pass without controversy but clearly there wasn’t enough to stop members and President Obama from voting for it and in July of last year — as soon as the ink was dry from then-President Bush’s signature — the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the FAA. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for July 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Also on that date? A report is due on the what some refer to as the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” but what I call illegal and unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

In July of last year — as soon as the ink was dry from then-President Bush’s signature — the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the FAA. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for July 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Also on that date? A report is due on what some refer to as the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” but what I call illegal and unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

The story of our government’s use of the NSA to spy on its own citizens is multifaceted and doesn’t seem to ever really die. And it won’t until we make sure there are rock-solid safeguards in place when it comes to our communications.

We’d like to think of our surveillance laws as a work in progress. Since the 111th Congress was gaveled in, we’ve been asking Congress to use this year and the upcoming expiring Patriot Act provisions to reevaluate the multitude of changes made to our surveillance laws over the last eight year — and frankly, before that.

Don’t forget that the FAA was intended to fix the absolute disaster that was the Protect America Act. Congress took nearly a year attempting to mop up that mistake and ended up not that far from where it started.

The reality is we need a thorough and holistic look at the laws that govern our privacy and our right to live our lives free from government intrusion. Here’s hoping the 111th Congress will do the right thing and make a commitment to restoring the chipped-away Fourth Amendment.

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