Next week, the US Senate will consider the permanent reauthorization of sections of the USA PATRIOT Act which permitted the wholesale spying on American citizens. HR 6172, if passed into law, will give the FBI the powers to continue to spy, surveil and watchlist ordinary Americans.
In addition to new provisions, HR 6172 would reauthorize the government’s ability to collect business and other records of individuals through the FISA court. It would also reauthorize a roving wiretap provision that permits the government to get orders targeting people who frequently change phone lines or use so-called burner devices to avoid traditional wiretaps on individual lines.
And of mounting concern to a growing number of watchlisted Americans, including reporters and activists, is the “lone wolf” provision which grants the government the power to surveil people who have no known connection to terrorist organizations but are nonetheless suspected for unspecified reasons of some level of terrorism. This provision is also up for the Senate vote.
A number of amendments to the Bill, which was passed by the House last March, might serve to soften some of the more draconian implications of the spying bill. Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, has proposed an amendment which would expand the circumstances under which an amicus curiae (Friend of the Court) would be appointed for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court proceedings. These circumstances include those involving religious institutions, political figures and other particularly sensitive cases.
If you are wondering if you read that right, the answer is most likely yes. The FISA court has approved spying on political figures and religious institutions.
An amendment from Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, would stipulate that the FISA court proceedings cannot be used against American citizens.
As quoted in Roll Call, Senator Paul had the following to say:
I think they’ll start with the House bill and we’ll have some amendment votes. I think leadership probably presumes they can beat them all, and, I don’t know, they usually do. We’ll see what happens…But I think it’s an important debate to have, and I will encourage the president to veto it if it still allows Americans to be abused in FISA court.
According to former NSA linguist and whistleblower Karen Melton-Stewart, FISA court proceedings have been used liberally to target Americans. Stewart states that:
A quiet hell was unleashed secretly upon the American public, not so much upon actual terrorists at all but for show, for pretense. It was a gigantic bait and switch, a Trojan Horse by which to target innocent Americans through brand new bright and shiny FBI Fusion Centers for horrific abuses…
She goes on to say that:
The resulting Intelligence Community, Department of Justice (DOJ), and law enforcement wholesale perversion of laws, the trampling of the Constitution coupled with the unquestioning trust of a traumatized population made the Protect America Act in reality into the Prey on America Act….
Stewart states that:
For years victims called “Targeted Individuals” have sounded the alarm that our protectors are actually our predators but few leaders have listened protected by a mountain of cognitive dissonance. Citizens and representatives alike blithely assumed a piece of paper and good intent guaranteed our safety if we gave up our freedoms to a new protector class.
President Trump has been personally impacted by the FISA court. The scandal surrounding the FISA court authorized surveillance of Trump aide Carter Page has resulted in a wider awareness that these sorts of surveillances might not achieve legal muster and could indeed be used for political machinations or even for personal revenge.
According to Karen Stewart,
If the Patriot Act is again reauthorized by oblivious, incompetent, or complicit leadership assuming all is well in their la-la land in Washington, then mark 2020 as the year American vision and foresight finally died from myopic discernment and blind apathy. Reauthorize and die. RIP America 1776-2020.