Watching the watchmen
Our privacy rights are under continual assault from out-of-control government. Whether from the National Security Agency hoovering up our telephone call data and various other electronic communications and documents, the FBI amassing a facial recognition database with hundreds of millions of photos, including those taken from state driver’s licenses, local police mounting license plate trackers on patrol cars and using “stingray” devices to mimic cell towers and intercept data and track hundreds of cellphones at a time or Transportation Security Administration agents needlessly harassing travelers at airport security checkpoints, governments at all levels routinely violate our Fourth Amendment rights to be free from illegal searches and seizures.
Last month, a U.S. Senate amendment to an appropriations bill came within one vote of expanding the USA PATRIOT Act and granting the FBI access to citizens’ internet browser histories without a court order. Moreover, this was a procedural vote that required 60 votes for passage, which means a solid majority of the Senate believes the government has the right to perform warrantless searches of every website visited by every person in the country. (Sen. Barbara Boxer voted “No” on the motion and Sen. Dianne Feinstein was one of four senators who did not vote.) Knowing how things work in Congress, however, we are just some minor arm-twisting away from a re-vote that will successfully swat down those pesky defenders of constitutional rights and civil liberties in short order.
This followed on the heels of the House voting down, 198-222, an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have defunded the NSA’s warrantless searches of Americans’ communications and prevented the government from mandating that companies include a “back door” in their encryption technologies that the government (and unknown numbers of hackers and identity thieves) could access. A similar measure had sailed through the House the previous two years, only to get stripped out of the final budget deals, but fear in the wake of the Orlando nightclub attack weakened lawmakers’ resolve to protect constitutional liberties, and the measure went down to defeat.
“If we let terrorism compel us to ignore the #Constitution, then haven’t the terrorists won?” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who introduced the measure with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., contended in a Facebook post shortly before the vote.