In 2005, President Bush came under tremendous scrutiny when it was discovered that phone calls originating outside the country routed to and through the United States were being listened to under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (updated by the Patriot Act in 2001 and again in 2007 under the Protect America Act). The goal was to obtain foreign intelligence information about those contacting individuals in the United States, specifically Islamic Jihadist “sleeper cells” like the ones involved in the September 11th attacks.
But is the FISA law making us any safer? Republican backers of this law will say that it is part of the national security strategy that has kept us from having any attacks on our soil since the 9/11 attacks. Democrats will say it really hasn’t made us any safer but offer no proof of why… except that it was George Bush’s idea, so it must be wrong.
I have to say I am a little torn on this issue. In the years after 9/11, I was in favor of foreign intelligence surveillance, as most of us were, because we were all still a little unnerved and upset that we had been attacked. In fact, I’m still for foreign intelligence surveillance, but…
If national security really were the priority, I believe the immigration issue would have been the first step toward national security. The FISA amendments would have been like the 15th or 20th step toward national security.
In all reality, if this law were put in place after we had either removed or identified the 12 – 15 million illegal aliens, I could reasonably assume that we legitimately were convinced that this law was vital to our national security. However, I believe that there are more effective means of preventing terror attacks in the United States than by spying on phone calls to what possibly could be United States citizens. How about we secure the border and fix our antiquated immigration processes first? That’s probably the most effective means of preventing terrorist attacks. Not only do we have millions of illegal immigrants here that we don’t know about, we also have plenty of temporary visitors here who have expired visas and we don’t know where they are.
Not only do I think that we have more effective means of providing for national security than by tapping overseas phone calls, but I believe this is a slippery slope. Right now, the possibility exists that a US citizen could have their privacy rights infringed upon for a year because they were receiving calls from someone on a terrorist watch list. Nevermind that no one knows how a person gets on a terrorist watch list… but now that citizen’s calls are being listened to without a judge issuing a warrant. Imagine if the police were able to tap any phone they liked because you once got a call from someone who got busted for smoking dope. That’s the feeling I get from this law. Not to mention the precedent it sets.
How long before we start wiretapping calls from all Muslims in the name of national security? Why stop there? One could argue that all those with religious affiliations are subject to zealous actions and therefore should be monitored. You’re probably thinking, “Come on, you’re taking things too far”. Well, the more comfortable we become with giving our privacy and property rights away in the name of national security the more we’ll be asked, if not made, to surrender.
I don’t trust the imperial federal government enough to think that all the information gained from these wiretaps will be used for “national security purposes”. And for those who believe that national security trumps personal freedoms… you are who Benjamin Franklin referred to when he said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I do not pretend to be more eloquent than that.