It is unsurprising that the 9/11 attack fostered a massive expansion of America’s already sprawling Surveillance State. But what is surprising, or at least far less understandable, is that this growth shows no signs of abating even as we approach almost a full decade of emotional and temporal distance from that event.
The spate of knee-jerk legislative expansions in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 trauma — the USA-PATRIOT Act — has actually been exceeded by the expansions of the last several years — first secretly and lawlessly by the Bush administration, and then legislatively and out in the open once Democrats took over control of the Congress in 2006. Simply put, there is no surveillance power too intrusive or unaccountable for our political class provided the word “terrorism” is invoked to “justify” those powers.
Illustrating this More-Surveillance-is-Always-Better mindset is what happened after The New York Times revealed in December, 2005 that the Bush administration had ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without the warrants required by law and without any external oversight at all. Despite the fact that the 30-year-old FISA law made every such act of warrantless eavesdropping a felony, “punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both,” and despite the fact that all three federal judges who ruled on the program’s legality concluded that it was illegal, there was no accountability of any kind.
The opposite is true: the telecom corporations which enabled and participated in this lawbreaking were immunized by a 2008 law supported by Barack Obama and enacted by the Democratic Congress. And that same Congress twice legalized the bulk of the warrantless eavesdropping powers which The New York Times had exposed: first with the 2007 Protect America Act, and then with the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which, for good measure, even added new warrantless surveillance authorities.
Again, the reaction of the political class in the face of these revelations was not only to resist any accountability but to further expand the very powers being abused. When then-candidate Obama infuriated many of his supporters in mid-2008 by announcing his support for the warrantless–surveillance expanding FISA Amendments Act, he assured everyone that he did so “with the firm intention — once [he’s] sworn in as President — to have [his] Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”
Not only has nothing like that occurred, but Congress has twice brushed aside the privacy and abuse concerns about the Patriot Act highlighted by the DOJ’s own report and long raised by Senator Russ Feingold. They did so when voting overwhelmingly to extend the provisions of that law unchanged: first in 2006 by a vote of 89-10, and again this year — with the overt support of the Obama administration — when it once again extended the Patriot Act without even a single added oversight protection.
Even after The New York Times in 2009 twice revealed substantial and serious abuses in the very warrantless eavesdropping powers which Obama voted to enact, the administration and the Congress show no interest whatsoever in imposing any added safeguards. The logic of the Surveillance State is that more is always better: not just more powers, but in increasingly unchecked form......continued
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