The 2008 FISA Amendments act, which allows for the warrantless wiretapping of United States citizens, has now officially been extended to 2017 following President Obama’s authorization signature.
Under the extension on the George W. Bush-era legislation, which lasts until 2017, a judge is no longer required for federal agents to wiretap and monitor all forms of communication. This is done primarily through a NSA-headed deal with communications companies like AT&T. It was back in 2007 when telecommunication networks were actually given retroactive legal immunity for tracking and monitoring calls from within the United States under the NSA’s US wiretapping program.
Before turning into a piece of warantless wiretapping legislation, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act originated back in 1970 and was intended to regulate the rules and policies of domestic spying within the nation. That changed dramatically when, in 2008, the act expanded to the surveillance of phone and email activities of US citizens. Specifically, the act enables investigators to tap phones or track emails without a warrant. The act allows for warrantless wiretapping purely if it is suspected that they are speaking to someone overseas through phone or email.
Warrantless Wiretapping for Calls, Emails Directed Overseas
And that’s what makes this bill so truly concerning. The tapping policies require only the suspicion that you are speaking to a resident of another nation to initiate the wiretapping. No known crime, no judge, no jury — just enough suspicion to believe that someone is likely speaking to someone in another nation.
Despite the serious vocal concerns from citizens and representatives like Rand Paul, who was one of only 23 to vote against the bill verses 73 votes in favor during the Senate vote, the bill glided straight through the political system and quickly received the signature of the president before the date of expiry (Monday).
The act also threatens internet freedom as a whole, threatening those who communicate online to others in foreign nations with domestic spying. Major internet freedom organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have spoken specifically on this issue, particularly with the unknown number of citizens under surveillance by the NSA. EFF spokesperson Trevor Timm called it:
“…an unconsitutional law that openly allows for warrantless surveillance of Americans’ overseas communications.”
In an effort to find out how many Americans, let alone innocent Americans, had been spied on through FISA, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) decided to send a latter back in May to the National Security Agency (NSA). In their letter they asked the secretive agency how many US citizens were directly targeted since 2008 when the bill turned ‘hot’. In a telling response, Inspector General I. Charles McCullough said that such an answer is not possible as it would go ‘beyond the capacity’ of the office.
Furthermore, McCullough said that they would actually need to allocate a significant amount of ‘additional resources’ that would affect the overall operation of the NSA. While not giving a straight answer, this means the number is very, very high.
The act now extends to 2017 after passing the House, the Senate, and signed today by Obama.