Amid doubts about President Donald Trump’s opinions on the issue, Congress passed legislation on Thursday granting his administration continued use of a controversial governmental spying program — and that has many people worried.
Americans don’t trust Trump on a myriad of issues. Whether it’s the serious topic of handling the United States’ nuclear arsenal or whether he should have access to a device that allows him to issue divisive tweets, Americans don’t put much stock into whether they can give Trump the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his executive responsibilities.
With that in mind, it’s confounding to witness on Thursday the reauthorization of a controversial spying program that gives the administration unimaginable access into the private lives of American citizens.
Earlier in the day, Congress passed legislation renewing for six years the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as FISA. The act allows the Justice Department and the various agencies under their purview to seek warrants granting them access to phones, emails, and more, under the guise of rooting out terrorists in the United States and around the world. But FISA can also issue out surveillance orders, authorized by the president, without a warrant from a FISA court, for up to one year.
FISA surveillance is not limited to foreign threats, either; if approved by a secret FISA court, they can be used to spy on American citizens, an invasion of privacy that many opponents to the law say undermine the Fourth Amendment protections of the Constitution.
But Americans can be spied on without a warrant also, if the original order from the executive branch had an original focus on surveillance from a foreign entity. In other words, if you call your cousin who is overseas, your conversation with her could be monitored by the U.S. government.
Under ordinary circumstances, the legalities of the FISA program have been questioned. With Trump as president, however, many pepole have expressed deeper fears of possible abuse, as Glenn Greenwald from The Intercept explains.
Democrats: 1) Jess Sessions is a corrupt racist; 2) Donald Trump is a lawless, tyrannical threat to democracy; 3) We must stand with them to empower them to spy on Americans without warrants; 4) We are #TheResistance https://t.co/ODSaEb083n— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 11, 2018
Here are the House Democrats who stood with Trump, Devin Nunes and the NSA to ensure ongoing warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. Note how many of the leading #Resistance leaders are on this list https://t.co/I9VIdAL5jB— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 11, 2018
As Greenwald points out in this and other comments, Democrats aren’t innocent in this whole ordeal. Many of them, too, voted in favor of reauthorizing FISA despite demonstrative problems with Trump’s temperament and restraint.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California), who voted against the bill, expressed his dismay with colleagues.
Disappointed the House just passed Nunes FISA Act reauthorization bill that will give Trump the power to spy on Americans without a warrant.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 11, 2018
Before the vote, Lieu authored an amendment to FISA law that would have allowed more oversight and required a FISA court authorize surveillance before the action is allowed to occur.
“Not only is this common sense, it is required by the Fourth Amendment,” Lieu wrote in a statement.
Lieu’s amendment to the law would have restored privacy protections that Americans are entitled to enjoy. The Fourth Amendment states that individuals cannot be subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” without a warrant, obtained “upon probable cause” that a crime is being committed. Under FISA, however, the right to privacy is being violated.
With Trump and his administration making orders on the law, it becomes imperative that changes be made. FISA is unconstitutional and can potentially be abused by any president who wants to violate the privacy of an American citizen.
Trump has allegedly already engaged in that sort of behavior. Before even being a candidate for political office, he was accused of listening in on phone conversations taking place within his hotels. We cannot trust him to suddenly show restraint with the power to do so as president. The law must be changed to account for this, and for future presidents.
Banner / Thumbnail : Jonathan Ernst/Reuters