By JAYNE LYN STAHL
April 16, 2007
Remember all the hooplah, and righteous indignation, on the part of Congress, when the National Security Agency electronic surveillance program story first broke, several months ago, and word got out that Bush & Co. have been illegally monitoring e-mails, and conducting warrantless eavesdropping in defiance of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act law of 1978?
As you recall, several prominent elected officials, at that time, insisted that the practice stop and itself have oversight, unless, o f course, efforts were made to revise FISA to accommodate the bogeyman war on terror; (bogey, short for bogus, of course)
Well, over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that, as part of his legacy, the president has now decided to make changes to the existing FISA laws, changes that would allow for greater surveillance of non-citizens as well as expanded "interception" of international communications. Under the current law, a person has to be associated with a specific "terrorism" suspect, or group to come before FISA court, and be deemed eligible for for authorization to monitor their overseas calls, and e-mails. But, as part of its policy of planned obsolescence of the Constitution, the administration now to expand its snooping authority to any noncitizen it deems worthy of surveillance, using a broad brush to define that worthiness. Additionally, the new bill allows the current, and future administration, the power to store information that has only a tenuous connection to their investigation, as well as any data they come across "unintentionally," as long as it is considered it to have what they deem "significant foreign intelligence."
Importantly, the proposed legislation does not deal with the pattern of abuse in the NSA scandal, late last year, which revealed that the government has been intercepting domestic communications, and demanding telephone and Internet records, whenever it believed that there contact between someone within our borders and someone overseas posed a threat to our elusive national security..
And, lest anyone could include inconsistency as among this administration's failings,and using the Military Commissions Act as a pernicious paradigm, this proposed bill also seeks to grant immunity, not from war crimes, but from prosecution, for those telecommunications carriers, and Internet service providers, who cooperate with the government in turning over confidential telephone, and e-mail records, should you or I decide to take them to court for doing so. What's more, this immunity would be retroactive for those companies that compromised your privacy by surrendering your personal information to the government dating back as far as the wee hours after 9/11. (WaPo)
When you consider that FISA has remained intact for nearly 30 years, and that, should this president have his way with this legislation as he did with the USA Patriot Act, it, too, will remain in place for decades, it's chilling to think about its longterm effect on freedom of expression. Think about how future generations will grow up with the constant thought that Big Brother may be reading their e-mails, letters, and/or listening in on their phone calls, and not only is Ma Bell going along for the ride, but their taxes may well go to keep this national (in)security infrastructure in place. Who will write the history books, and how credible will those history books be, when the government gets to breathe down the necks of those who, in some way, try to communicate about their authentic experience of events?
It's time, yes, and way overdue, that each and every one of us who got out to vote for change, in the mid-term elections, contact members of Congress and tell them that this is not what we had in mind by a changing of the guard. It's time we let them know that the 2006 election wasn't just about the war in Iraq, it was about the war on our civil liberties, too. And, those intelligence committee meetings that dealt with NSA spying, and government overreaching into our affairs, can be seen as little more than theatre of the absurd if this is how they plan to counter the excessive, and egregious legislation being enacted, and proposed, in the name of preventing another terror attack. We need to let them know that we want our Bill of Rights back; if they can have their secrecy, we can have our privacy.
Oh yes, and those Democrats, in the Senate , who said that if the president thought that FISA needed to be reformed, in light of 9/11, then he should reform it, surely this isn't what they had in mind by that reform. And, if it is, then we need to give them a piece of our mind before the Senate Intelligence Committee convenes tomorrow , and for as long as it takes until everyone we elected to represent us understands that 2008 is just around the corner, and we're not going to accept these ongoing, and outrageous efforts to put the First Amendment on the endangered species list.
Jayne Lyn Stahl is a widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.