The New York Times story with new revelations of surveillance abuses under the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program is making big news today (Associated Press, Washington Post, Salon,) as well it should. Beyond the allegations of an out-of-control spying program, the story casts new light on last spring's surveillance battle in Congress.
That battle culminated in the passage in July of the FISA Amendments Act, which substantially reformed US surveillance law. The Act's proponents on the left claimed it would "respect the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people." Its proponents on the right compared critics to "those who wear tinfoil hats around the house."
Which side do you think turned out to be correct?
It's only nine months later, and we're already starting to hear of the consequences. Here's today's report:
The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.
This is confirmation of what we've been saying all along: That, contrary to the statements of many who supported its passage, last July's legislation has substantially eroded Americans' privacy and only led to further abuse.
The article also provides details of an NSA attempt in 2005 or 2006 "to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip." As EFF and others have pointed out before, allowing the NSA unchecked access to our domestic telecommunications network will inevitably lead to this kind of political abuse.
These revelations underline the need for new action on NSA surveillance abuses, both from Congress and from the White House.
Congress should repeal or reform the FISA Amendments Act, as it has now become undeniable that the checks it set on surveillance power are insufficent and dysfunctional. In addition, Congress should establish a comission or a select committee to fully and publicly investigate the NSA program, past and present.
As for the White House and the DOJ — First, they should do as Senator Feingold recommended earlier today, and waive the state secrets privilege in pending surveillance litigation. Second, they should withdraw their baseless claims of sovereign immunity. These simple actions would clear the way for true accountability through an independent judicial ruling on the legality of the program.