New Surveillance Law Threatens American Privacy
The most significant change in surveillance law in 30 years is destined to be on the books thanks to President Bush and the Congress. The hearing for approval is expected this morning. This law enhancement would allow government entities to conduct emergency wiretaps without court orders on American targets for a week if it is determined that important national security information might be lost.
Our president is thrilled with the new measure. The overhaul on the government’s wiretapping powers provides what amounts to legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in President Bush’s program of eavesdropping without warrants after the Sept. 11 attacks. President Bush has been pushing for this immunity for some time which allows significant legal precedence and shuts down any pending lawsuits. The law also immunizes President Bush any possible or future calls against his cowboy intelligence measures.
The media is reporting that many loopholes are being repaired in the old laws. However, based on the new law, the government will be allowed to use broad warrants to eavesdrop on large groups of foreign targets at once. As far as targeting and wiretapping Americans, the administration would have to get individual court orders from the intelligence court, but in urgent or emergency circumstances it would be able to go ahead for at least seven days without a court order if it asserted that “intelligence important to the national security of the United States may be lost.” This is still tantamount to a free pass for checking any citizen out for any cause during what the administration considers “an emergency” without even a legislative acid test. What remains is essentially a potential direct violation of privacy while placating the public on the surface.
White House officials said that the new emergency provisions applied only to foreign wiretapping, but Democratic officials said they interpreted the proposal to apply to domestic surveillance operations as well. So goes the politics and political interpretation of federal law. On these terms, the new law is more invasive than any previous law without any repercussions whatever and mere window dressing for unregulated privacy violation for any reason for the short-term.
Further, the question of immunity is of no value when legal authority granted by law requires the judicial system to grant immunity. The government can keep the international or domestic communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power.
The new law also requires the creation of a new court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to approve any effort to spy on Americans. If the newly created court determined that intelligence would be lost, U.S. authorities could act for up to seven days before seeking a warrant — more than twice the three-day emergency period under the current law. This creation of what is essentially a new branch of government allows a complete circumvention of previous law during a seven day test period for unlimited collection of information. This smacks somewhat of Nazi Gestapo power in the name of homeland security. Tied in to the existing intelligence power structure of America, there is virtually no limit to intelligence-gathering abilities of the new intelligence community. The electronic and computer age has made gathering intelligence easy.