After witnessing how easily the surveillance state can be weaponized for political purposes, one could have expected conservatives to rethink their perfunctory support for the state’s largely unchecked spying powers. If FBI agents will fabricate evidence against the opposition party during a presidential campaign, and use that evidence to attain warrants from an obliging FISA court, what do they imagine a motivated official could do to an average American?
Most Republicans, and a majority of Democrats, don’t care.
On Thursday, many of the same GOPers who’ve been railing against FISA abuses that ensnared the Trump officials voted to reauthorize parts of the law that make such abuses possible. As is the case with nearly every extension of The Patriot Act — this, the ludicrous “USA Freedom Reauthorization Act;” because laws that strip Americans of liberties tend to be given names that attempt to convince us otherwise — they did so without any genuine debate about the efficacy of the law.
The legislation includes a new requirement for the attorney general to sign off on any FISA applications dealing with elected officials and federal candidates. The court exists to check the power of the executive branch and uphold constitutional protections. It’s highly doubtful that someone like Eric Holder, who used the Espionage Act to spy on journalists, would feel greatly inhibited by this kind of directive.
An amendment written by Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy also increases the role of outside legal experts to weigh in on FISA court hearings. That sounds like a positive development. On the other hand, the Senate shot down an amendment that would have prohibited law enforcement from collecting your browser search history without any warrant. That sounds authoritarian.
It’s worth noting that the handful of Democrats voted against the bill have spent the past four years propagating the Russia Collusion conspiracy, while never once mentioning that the unchecked FISA power they supposedly oppose made the entire fiasco possible. All of these senators also support bestowing other government agencies like the IRS with unlimited power to look at your personal financial records and political and charitable donations.
There is bipartisan consensus in Washington that you don’t have any privacy.
The FISA bill now goes back to the House. Trump has reportedly said he wouldn’t sign any extension without a substantive reforms to the FISA process, at least according to Rand Paul. But since Bill Barr has lobbied for passage, a veto seems unlikely.