FISA Enlarges, in Secret, the Range of NSA Secrets

Among the many troubling things about who is spying on whom, for what reasons, for how long, the most troubling of all is the clever structure of law and regulation that makes talking about it a secret.  It is turning out that the meta-data collection of US phone calls was not the operation of a rogue President or a basement ad-hoc group in the CIA or FBI but has been approved by all sorts of elected representatives.  Judicial over-sight has been built in — just what a democracy should expect.  The problem is, as the latest Eric Lichtblau piece reveals, that the FISA court,  [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] has operated under such layers of secrecy that no one has tracked what new terrain it is plowing, deciding on the basis of a secret line of  rulings to allow NSA spying  not just to skim off terrorism leads but in multiple other areas.

— In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving theNational Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.

The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

NY Times: Lichtblau

Let the conversation begin.  It may well be that nuclear proliferation should be watched for, or the potential for cyberattacks, but allowing 11 persons, even respected judges with long records of impeccable judgement, to make such decisions and then to hide that such decisions are being made, make it impossible for Senators to talk about it,  is a recipe for unintended catastrophe.

As far as I’ve read no one has been dragneted into a police holding cell because meta-data collection shows conversations with prostitutes, gun dealers, cigarette smugglers, or anything at all.  The concern is not that some individuals have been illegally fished, but that the water is rising and, inevitably, once it IS possible to fish in such pools of data, someone WILL.

And another article, complementing Lichtblau’s at the Wall Street Journal. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.