Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has set aside her crusade to take away Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights in recent months to devote the bulk of her energy to ensuring that the Federal government retains its ability to abrogate the 4th Amendment with impunity by conducting unchecked mass surveillance.
Two weeks ago, Feinstein took to The Wall Street Journal to pen an op-ed in shameless defense of the National Security Agency’s spying efforts titled “The NSA’s Watchfulness Protects America.” Her argument hinged on remembering the 9/11 terror attacks, repeatedly noting that terror attacks remain a possibility and promoting the idea that Americans should accept that the NSA is keeping the Nation safe because the NSA says it is doing so.
She wrote: “The program—which collects phone numbers and the duration and times of calls, but not the content of any conversations, names or locations—is necessary and must be preserved if we are to prevent terrorist attacks.”
The following Sunday, the Senator penned another piece for USA Today, insisting that the NSA isn’t doing anything that could be considered spying and that “the NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight.”
“The call-records program is not surveillance. It does not collect the content of any communication, nor do the records include names or locations,” she insisted. “The NSA only collects the type of information found on a telephone bill: phone numbers of calls placed and received, the time of the calls and duration. The Supreme Court has held this ‘metadata’ is not protected under the Fourth Amendment.”
Feinstein’s arguments follow what seems to be the government’s official narrative on the NSA’s “non-spying.”
Last week, NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander parroted a similar message talking about Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
“They aren’t spying programs,” he said. “One is called the Business Records FISA Program, or Section 215, and the other is called the FISA Amendment Act 702 or PRISM.”
What Feinstein and Alexander both ignore is not what Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) say on paper, but rather the Federal government’s perverse application of those sections—the result of which is wholly illegal and unConstitutional mass data collection.
While some lawmakers—Democrat and Republican—have acknowledged the NSA’s misdeed in interpreting the Acts and have sought to reform the FISA court to provide additional oversight, Feinstein’s latest moves indicate that she is willing to go to war, even with members of her own party, to codify the NSA’s spying powers.
“I do not want to leave the United States in a position where we are open to another major attack because we can’t ferret out who terrorists might be calling in this country to put it together,” Feinstein said in an interview over the weekend.
In her capacity as the head of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, Feinstein is working to create legislation that would do little more than restate the NSA’s authority to gather records listing the numbers, duration and time of all U.S. telephone calls. The Senator claims that the legislation would increase privacy protections and Congressional oversight— but she has given no indication that her bill would rein in current abuses of surveillance authority. Many of Feinstein’s critics say that she is simply attempting to create legislation stating that the NSA activities which have recently elicited public outrage are the norm.
“It seems as though the Intelligence committees are working on bills designed to allow them to say they are advancing reforms without fundamentally changing much of anything,” Julian Sanchez, a research fellow with the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, told National Review.
The Feinstein bill will face competing and more privacy-friendly legislation offered by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which seeks to stop mass spying, increase transparency about the spying and publicly disclose some of the secret FISA opinions supposedly justifying the programs.
Both of the Senate Democrats have access to classified information pertaining to the NSA’s activities, yet they have managed to come to starkly contrasting conclusions: Feinstein calls the surveillance agency’s programs “data collection.” Leahy refers to the NSA’s actions as outright domestic spying.
Feinstein’s undying dedication to keeping the surveillance status quo intact has led some people to question whether her efforts are truly the result of a belief that “it’s the only way we prevent an attack” or if she simply has become too close to the Nation’s intelligence agencies.
One legislator who has questioned Feinstein’s motives is Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who is expected to introduce a House version of the Leahy bill as soon as today. The Representative, who was an author of the original 2001 Patriot Act that made the NSA programs possible, contends that Feinstein is simply offering surveillance critics a “fig leaf” to quiet displeasure about an out-of-control surveillance state.
“The National Security Agency has gone overboard in grabbing everyone’s phone records. They have never been specific as to how many terrorist plots they stopped and it’s time this gets straightened around,” he said. “The original intention of these laws is to find out who is a foreigner who is involved in terrorist activities and then find out who that person is talking to rather than taking everyone’s records and sifting through them.”