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House says yes to 5 more years of Americans surrendering their freedom in exchange for temporary safety

There seems to be a never-ending battle to spy on Americans in the name of "fighting terrorism" in the United States.  This week the U.S. House voted 301-118 to pass the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012 (H.R. 5949).  The bipartisan-backed bill will give the government a blank check for 5 more years of warrantless wiretaps.

I. How Did We Get Here?

The FISA mess, like many in the government is a story of what seemed like a good idea being perverted to accomplish the exact thing that it was original intended to prevent -- non-transparent and unaccountable wiretapping.

The FISA was designed to eliminate Fourth Amendment violations, and was put in place in the wake of accusations that President Richard Nixon had used wiretaps to spy on political rivals.  The act only allowed for warrantless wiretaps if one of the parties was "reasonably believed" to be outside the U.S.

While well intentioned, perhaps the FISA left open the door to abuse by putting domestic surveillance mechanisms in place.  While the bill criminalized abuse, with a penalty of up to five years in jail, it has been difficult to prove abuse allegations against ranking federal officials. 

But for its flaws FISA did offer some protections for a while.  Then came the PATRIOT Act of 2001, which dramatically expanded warrantless wiretaps, and the "Protect America Act" of 2007 (Pub.L. 110-55S. 1927).

II. Both Romney and Obama Support Spying on Citizens

As with many kind of domestic spying over the last decade, usage went up and accountability went down.  It's hard to say exactly what the results are -- because the public isn't privileged with that information.

But from past warrantless surveillance program reviews, one could safely assume that the program was often used for its intended purpose (fighting terrorism) -- but also often abused in a variety of ways.

William Binney, a codebreaker for the U.S. National Security Agency -- one of the chief wiretapping intelligence agencies -- quit his post in 2001 when he began to witness abuse; U.S. citizens being illegitimately snooped on.

[Image Source: Djibnet]

He commented in a speech at this year's Defcon hacker conference, "NSA's charter was to do foreign intelligence, and I was with that all the way.  But then they took those systems that I built and they turned them on you, and I'm sorry about that."

Both President Obama and former Mass. Governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are both of the same mind when it comes to this provision and others which will likely lead to spying on American citizens -- they love them.  Both men have vocally supported the extension to the warrantless wiretaps and in support of other kinds of spying, arguing that the need for safety outweighs Americans' need for certain freedoms like privacy.

With such sweeping bipartisan support, the spying on American citizens and erosion liberties is likely to continue to be enjoyed and be advanced in years to come, assuming there is not a radical change in party leadership or some other radical shift in the American political atmosphere.

Source: GOP

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Modern privacy
By Ringold on 9/13/2012 8:24:05 PM , Rating: 5
The news is disappointing, but brings to mind a wider matter that I always think of when things like this come up in recent years.

Look at Facebook; many people post precise details of their lives, and no matter the privacy settings you put, FB knows it all. It knows whose pictures you look at the most, where you are during most parts of the day, what you say to your closest friends via chat and messages, etc.

Then credit card companies and banks. If you're like me and don't like messing with cash, they know everything you buy, when and where you bought it, and based on your history, might even know when you're going to buy it again.

And Gmail. Thanks to receipts, notices, etc., Gmail, Hotmail, etc., they may all know all of the above.

And all of the above, with few exceptions, are happy to milk that private data to push ads to you or attempt to up-sell services. In and of itself, that's benign, a price everybody using the services for free deep down understands is why its "free." But all that is just a hack away, or a government phone call away, too.

So, what is "privacy" in 2012? Does it exist? I don't think so, not outside the rare use of a small number of semi-anonymous communication systems (certain e-mail providers, etc). 95% of us have sold it away for cheap services, 4% are luddites, 1% live in the mountains with 10,000 rounds of ammo and enough dried food to last a decade. Not that I like it, I just think its a cost built in to an information age. Best we can do I think is to keep the government in the dark well enough that it still fears the people, and this bill doesn't do that at all.

Last second ninja edit: Could pass data privacy laws that require deletion of pretty much all transactions online after, say, a week. Historians would lose out, economists, and legitimate law enforcement requests would too. Could swing the door wide open for corporate fraud.

RE: Modern privacy
By Master Kenobi on 9/14/2012 3:34:15 AM , Rating: 1
There is no such thing as privacy in the modern world. People gave it away to corporations a long time ago. The government is just playing catch up these days.

RE: Modern privacy
By 91TTZ on 9/14/2012 11:11:19 AM , Rating: 2
People need to take their privacy back. Just because some corporations have abused your information doesn't give others the right to do the same thing.

RE: Modern privacy
By Paj on 9/14/2012 7:03:11 AM , Rating: 2
This is exactly the kind of 'big government' I don't like.

RE: Modern privacy
By polishvendetta on 9/14/2012 11:50:53 AM , Rating: 2
Not to be all dystopian, but some day, all of these services will be provided by the government.

It seems to me every day that business is inching its way into the government, with lobbyist groups being backed by huge corperations, and more specificly RIAA, and this recent Samsung vs Apple case. It appears more and more that the government is more then willing and sometimes encouraging big business to play ball with them.

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