According to the Wall Street Journal, the F.I.S.A. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court has been making "secret law". They and others have arrived at this conclusion based on the information leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The court took it upon itself to re-interpret one word...relevant...so broadly it allows the government to suck up all electronic communications between Americans and anyone else.
This revelation means the entire system of checks and balances in our government has broken down. Congress ceded this control to the F.I.S.A. court in 2006 when it re-authorized the Patriot Act. Some in Congress wanted to tighten restrictions on government spying. Instead, the "relevance" standard was adopted and Snowden's leaks show the F.I.S.A. court, in secret, interpreted the word so broadly former Senator Russ Feingold's warning in 2006 has come true. Feingold said if the word was interpreted too widely it could be defined to the point of "irrelevance".
The ruling by the F.I.S.A. court cannot be appealed. There is no vehicle for such an action. It's rulings are issued in secret...discussed in secret...administered in secret...and there is no higher court or body to go to protest these rulings may be unconstitutional and violate the 4th amendment. If this isn't enough to freeze your giblets, it will comfort you to know people like Diane Feinstein, and the heads of the Congressional intelligence committees, have been "extensively" briefed on this usurpation of power, and they raised no objections. They act as if because they were informed, and approved of these practices, the American public has its day in court. The fact these briefings are in secret...discussed in secret...objected to in secret and none of their constituents knew how big Big Brother had gotten, is lost on them completely.
Timothy Egan, a privacy law specialist, says the changes the court made were "aggressive". (really?) The reinterpretation of "relevant" was the equivalent of making "secret law". He goes on to say Congress did not fully debate the issue because the program wasn't public. This is representative government at its best.
You would know none of this were it not for Edward Snowden. You would be totally unaware of the destruction of your privacy and the fact a secret court, with no oversight or appellate mechanism, created new law in secret...law which opens you to prying and peeping at a scope unknown in modern history.
Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R. Wisconsin), one of the authors of the Patriot Act, is outraged. "...the government must request specific records relevant to an investigation...to argue otherwise renders the protections meaningless. It's like scooping up the ocean to guarantee you catch a fish."
For those who argue if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about, remember it is the government which decides what is legal or illegal...the federal code contains over 4,500 different provisions and administrative agency regulations which mandate prison time if violated. Even more worrisome, thousands of these provisions do not require you to even know you were breaking the law, yet still require you to go to jail. This is the ultimate definition of a fascist state. Make everything illegal and give the government the discretion over what to prosecute and what to ignore. (do you see the power and leverage this gives those in power over you?)
It can go deeper...which of your personal, private actions or thoughts would you be appalled to find broadcast on the giant neon screen in Times Square? Knowing who you call, text or email...knowing where you are at all times...knowing how frequently you contact your doctor, therapist, lover or political allies...all of this meta-data allows the creation of personal profiles of you describing everything from your marital status, physical and mental health, political leanings, sexual orientation, to what books you read and movies you download. How could any of that be relevant to the government and more importantly isn't this exactly what the founding fathers opposed when they wrote the 4th amendment?
The British could quarter soldiers in your home...arrest you on trumped up charges...search anything and everything of your personal property without your permission. The 4th amendment was written to protect you and your papers and property from government intrusion. Today they don't need to put a government agent in your home, they can do it all with the help of the telecoms and search engines resulting in the 4th amendment being eliminated in secret.
This issue has been losing steam and sting. The soap opera that is " where in the world is Edward Snowden going to end up", has eclipsed the real issues at work here. Why have Californians failed to confront Feinstein and Boxer to get them on the record as to whether they support legal decisions made in secret by secret courts? Why hasn't there been even the beginning of this public debate about the balance between privacy and security which Obama says he welcomes? Why are Americans so blasé and cavalier about their civil liberties? Is it true Americans secretly hunger for a strong, authoritarian daddy figure to make them safe and give them the illusion of security?
There is a secret court full of secret judges making secret decisions which secretly amend the Bill of Rights. What we learned as children about our system of checks and balances, so brilliantly conceived by our founding fathers, is in danger of being re-defined into oblivion. Now you know it thanks to Snowden. My father always said knowledge is power. Power to do what?