The Digital Surveillance State: Vast, Secret, and Dangerous Glenn Greenwald, Cato
Illustrating this More-Surveillance-is-Always-Better mindset is what happened after The New York Times revealed in December, 2005 that the Bush administration had ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without the warrants required by law and without any external oversight at all. Despite the fact that the 30-year-old FISA law made every such act of warrantless eavesdropping a felony, “punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both,” and despite the fact that all three federal judges who ruled on the program’s legality concluded that it was illegal, there was no accountability of any kind. The opposite is true: the telecom corporations which enabled and participated in this lawbreaking were immunized by a 2008 law supported by Barack Obama and enacted by the Democratic Congress. And that same Congress twice legalized the bulk of the warrantless eavesdropping powers which The New York Times had exposed: first with the 2007 Protect America Act, and then with the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which, for good measure, even added new warrantless surveillance authorities.
Not even revelations of systematic abuse can retard the growth of the Surveillance State or even bring about some modest accountability. In 2007, the Justice Department’s own Inspector General issued a report documenting continuous abuses by the FBI of a variety of new surveillance powers vested by the Patriot Act, particularly the ability to obtain private, invasive records about Americans without the need for any judicial supervision (via so-called “National Security Letters” (NSLs). The following year, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed ongoing abuses subsequent to the time period covered by the initial IG report.
Not only has Obama, in the wake of this massive expansion, blocked any reforms, he has taken multiple steps to further expand unaccountable and unchecked surveillance power. For the last year, the Obama Justice Department has been trying to convince federal courts to extend its warrantless surveillance powers beyond even what the Patriot Act provides to encompass private email and Internet browsing records, a position which would allow the FBI and other federal agencies to acquire email and browsing records of American citizens — including those who are not suspected of any wrongdoing — without any warrants or judicial supervision of any kind. With defeat in the courts appearing likely, it was recently revealed by The Washington Post that the administration is agitating for Congressional action to amend the Patriot Act to include such Internet and browsing data among the records obtainable by NSLs.