Jim In the News
Congress enacted an affordable health care bill that's making a lot of people sick, requiring them to pay more for their insurance. It enacted a stimulus bill that put a wet blanket on the economy, and now it's considering a bill to "reform" the snoopery of the National Security Agency by increasing the agency's surveillance power.
The Senate Intelligence Committee pulled this bait-and-switch maneuver last week, claiming to restrain domestic spying with legislation that actually gives legal cover for the constitutionally dubious collection of telephone calls, emails and metadata from millions of Americans. The bill "prohibits" metadata collection "unless" certain procedures are followed. Orders for collection can only be effective for 90 days, but can be extended as many times as the agency wants. The spies must cross their hearts and hope to die if they look at the private Facebook snapshots of celebrities or read the emails of an ex-wife. No gossips allowed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the intelligence panel and sometimes sounds skeptical of intelligence abuses, devised this defense of the spying enterprise. "This program helps 'connect the dots,' the main failure of our intelligence before 9/11," she argued in an op-ed essay in USA Today. Had the NSA been recording everyone's telephone calls 12 years ago, she says, the hijackers would have been caught.
Perhaps, but probably not. Domestic surveillance was abundant in April, yet Islamic extremists set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 264 spectators. Mass surveillance is no guarantee of safety.
Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, actually opposes the domestic spy program. "The NSA's ongoing, invasive surveillance of Americans' private information," he says, "does not respect our constitutional values and needs fundamental reform — not incidental changes."
He's joined by a key Republican in the House, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, who proposes legislation to eliminate the bulk collection of emails and metadata, clarifying the Patriot Act provision that intelligence agencies cite to justify their snooping. The technology giants AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo joined Friday in backing this restraint. The companies have faced the wrath of customers upset that the firms have been colluding with the spy agencies to hand over private communications under court orders.
The meaning and intent of the Fourth Amendment is straightforward; namely, that the government can only read the "papers" of a particular person if there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed, and must have a warrant. Mr. Sensenbrenner's measure is the wise and honest way to compel government agencies into line with their constitutional duties.
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