Bob Goodlatte’s new bill, the USA Liberty Act, reauthorizes section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which is scheduled to expire in December. It presumably uses the word “liberty” in its title because we are to believe that this surveillance is protecting our liberty. It also presumes to do a better job at protecting the privacy of U.S. citizens than section 702 did originally. Let’s not kid ourselves – this is not liberty!
While I must say I appreciate the effort to instill additional oversight and protections into our surveillance efforts, this surveillance shouldn’t be happening at all. The current structure collects everything, but supposedly only allows it to be queried after FISA court approval if it involves a U.S. citizen. Communications that belong to U.S. citizens should not be collected at all until there is a search warrant, regardless of whether they are communicating with foreign nationals. Collecting them before a search warrant, query or no query, is a violation of our Fourth Amendment right.
Collecting all communications and storing them indefinitely is a very dangerous prospect. This is turnkey tyranny. At any point, a tyrannical government could use this capability at its whim. While there may be oversights and protections in place now, we know nothing about the software or databases this infrastructure is based on. None of it is open source thus not publicly verifiable. For all we know, anyone at any time can use it to read communications without FISA court approval. While that may be illegal, it’s not necessarily stopping anyone.
The USA Liberty Act, while noble in attempting to reduce the impact on U.S. citizens, isn’t what we need. We need nothing less than total dissolution of mass government surveillance and the government agencies or subordinate offices that participate.