As the larger part of American culture seems ready to surrender its claim to privacy without question, organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation are riding like Paul Revere through the digital Massachusetts night.
In an apparent contradiction to the recent passage of legislation strengthening the protection of Americans’ privacy via email, on Friday the U.S. Senate voted to preserve amendments made in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. For four years now, the revisions have granted retroactive immunity to members of the Bush administration and numerous telecommunications companies that colluded to monitor emails, text messages and phone calls made by Americans after 9/11. Before the FISA additions, the conduct of such surveillance free of oversight by courts stood in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Surveillance undertaken in such a manner also goes against the rules laid down in the first FISA bill passed in 1978.
The 2008 amendments had the joint effect of removing Americans’ basic privacy protections and reinforcing a two-tiered system of justice that protects the country’s ruling elites while keeping the politically powerless subject to the full force of the law.
None of this registered concern for Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whom Glenn Greenwald described as “one of the Senate’s richest plutocrats, whose husband … has coincidentally been quite enriched by military and other government contracts during her Senate career.” Feinstein led this week’s successful shock-and-awe campaign to oppose any reform of FISA that could have given the American public a chance to know how it’s used. Any legislator—including Sens. Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, Jeff Merkley and Rand Paul—who asked that officials not familiar with the spying procedures be able to learn roughly how many Americans are being targeted, or be granted the means to make sure FISA’s power wasn’t being abused, was implied to be a supporter of terrorism. With such official fear mongering clogging the debate—and with the specter of Dick Cheney so clearly present—it’s a wonder that 23 senators voted to oppose the amendment-extending bill.
It’s a matter of record that many of the bill’s congressional supporters had no interest in debating it. Despite the insistence of some lawmakers, the Senate postponed discussion over the amendments until four days before they were set to expire, and until a few days ago there was no public indication that a discussion would occur.
With a government driven by corporate money, it is often difficult to tell what effects non-corporate interest groups have on politicians’ behavior, but the Senate announced its decision to debate the amendments after the Electronic Frontier Foundation called on its supporters to pressure lawmakers with phone calls, emails and tweets.
As a publication history on its website shows, the group has been carefully documenting the government’s efforts to monitor Americans via the National Security Agency since the summer of 2007. The foundation has been operating for 20 years, during which time it has provided funds for legal defense; offered information to courts; won legal battles protecting journalistic confidentiality, establishing computer code as speech and defining email as protected from unwarranted government access; championed the protection of inventors and new technologies deemed threatening to official powers; worked to expose government wrongdoing; organized grass-roots political movements; and constructed and maintained a massive and easily accessible database of academic and journalistic material tracking the civil liberties battle of the government and its corporate sponsorship against the American people in the digital arena. It is currently challenging the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program in federal court.
For proving an invaluable resource and advocate in the effort to understand and protect Americans’ privacy rights in a changing world, we honor the Electronic Frontier Foundation as our Truthdigger of the Week.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (CC BY 2.0)