Friday, April 17, 2009

Oh, Please

Yesterday, I posted on the news that the National Security Agency had been caught exceeding its mandate to electronically spy on US citizens. The NY Times article upon which that post was based apparently caught the eyes of a couple of senators, who now are calling for hearings into that unlawful and unconstitutional activity. Once again, from NY Times:

The head of the Senate intelligence committee said Thursday that she would hold a hearing to examine the National Security Agency’s interception of domestic communications after new reports that recent wiretapping went beyond what Congress has authorized.

“These are serious allegations, and we will make sure we get the facts,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who leads the Senate intelligence committee. “The committee is looking into this, and we will hold a hearing on this subject within one month.”

Getting the facts is one thing; doing something about them is an entirely different thing, and in this case it is doubtful that beyond some anguished posturing and mild rebukes anything will get done. First of all, because the issue involves an intelligence gathering agency, those hearings will no doubt be conducted in secret. The public will not ever be apprised of just how extensive the NSA violations of our rights were. Second, the hearings will be governed by the premise that warrantless electronic eavesdropping on citizens is acceptable. After all, Congress said it was acceptable in their last revision of FISA, they just put a few restrictions on it.

At least one senator, Russ Feingold, acknowledges the root problem, although even he is not directly challenging the concept of a government spying on its own citizens:

Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who has been active in overseeing intelligence issues, said Thursday that the report of wiretapping problems was part of “a tragic retreat from the principles that had governed the sensitive area of government surveillance for the previous three decades.”

Mr. Feingold called for reforms in intelligence law as well as the public release of certain aspects of wiretapping operations “so that the American people can better understand their scope and impact.”

Unless and until the entire operation is shut down and the NSA's mandate to spy on us is quashed, our rights will be diminished even further. NSA overstepped its bounds because it could. It will always do so. Holding secret hearings is not going to stop that.

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