Editor’s Note: Go slow on renewing surveillance powers
Privacy and the government’s increasing ability to violate it is too serious an issue to be treated as a tack-on to other routine legislation.
But that’s what the Republican controlled Congress may try to do in attaching an extension of some federal surveillance powers to a year-end spending package.
Good for Michigan’s Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, and 34 of his colleagues for calling foul on the subterfuge.
Amash and the others sent a letter to House leadership demanding that reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act be debated and voted on separately.
FISA, which establishes special courts to consider requests from federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies of wire taps and other tools to spy on American citizens, should receive rigorous scrutiny. That’s especially true in light of evidence that the Obama Justice Department may have used the FISA courts to enable efforts to sabotage the incoming Trump administration.
The department faces allegations it used a faked up dossier on Donald Trump’s activities in Russia to gain permission to listen in on his campaign officials. That triggered the current special prosecutor probe into campaign collusion with the Russians in the 2016 election.
This is a good time to pause and ask hard questions about whether the secret courts and enhanced surveillance powers have delivered on their original purpose of protecting Americans from terrorism. Or have they been abused to assist routine criminal investigations? Or misused for political purposes?
Congress should be asking hard questions about the FISA warrants that have been issued, the standards for getting a warrant and the accountability for how the warrants are used.
That won’t happen if the reauthorization is tied to a hurry-up spending bill to keep the government running past the first of the year.
It’s a big deal when Congress takes action that allows the federal government to curtail the civil rights of Americans. It should always be treated that way.