Friday, Oct 19, 2018
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Will Tomer

FREE SPEECH FOR THEE?

House Democrats show true colors with government surveillance vote

  • Trump-Immigration-18

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelois helped spearhead an effort to reauthorize a bill that allows the warrantless surveillance of American citizens.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Trump-Russia-Probe-67

    Rep. Adam Schiff claimed the House had saved the nation from “a crippling requirement in national security and terrorism cases" through the FISA vote.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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    Rep. Marcy Kaptur joined many of her fellow Democrats in striking down a reform amendment to Section 702 of the FISA Act.

    THE BLADE
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Trump-Immigration-18

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelois helped spearhead an effort to reauthorize a bill that allows the warrantless surveillance of American citizens.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

The House of Representatives voted last week to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for at least six more years. In the process, the House rejected an amendment to the law that would have protected American citizens from warrantless government surveillance.

The law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments (FISA) Act, allows the government to collect communications data from companies like Google, Verizon, and AT&T. While Section 702 is intended to target foreigners abroad, communications with American citizens can also be collected under this law. The law provided the legal foundation for the PRISM program, a domestic telecommunications surveillance operation that was disclosed by Edward Snowden in 2013.

The House vote to reauthorize Section 702 was 256 to 164.

The bill must still pass the Senate, but, as the New York Times noted, “fewer senators appear to favor major change to spying laws, so the vote...in the House was the pivotal test.”

On the same day, the House also struck down a proposed amendment to the law that had been proposed by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), which would have required that government officials obtain a warrant before acquiring or reading communications captured from American citizens.

The amendment was defeated by a vote of 183 to 233. Votes critical to the amendment’s defeat were cast by 55 Democrats, including House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).

“Effectively, the vote was almost certainly the end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance and privacy rights,” wrote the New York Times.

For all the criticisms aimed at President Donald Trump by Democrats over the past year, particularly from self-styled #Resistance leaders like Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schiff, the decision to reauthorize Section 702 and strike down a reform amendment shows their true colors where civil liberties are concerned.

For many Democrats, including Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Schiff, and Ms. Kaptur, the Trump presidency has been a boon for both their popularity and campaign funds.

Ms. Pelosi was called “the most effective member of the Resistance” by Washington Monthly for her jabs at Mr. Trump over his “broken promises.”

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Rep. Marcy Kaptur joined many of her fellow Democrats in striking down a reform amendment to Section 702 of the FISA Act.

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Ms. Kaptur has a number of declarations criticizing the Trump administration, going so far as to call on the FBI to investigate Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

Mr. Schiff has gained notoriety by warning cable news viewers about Mr. Trump’s threat to democracy. “We ought to be thinking in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, beyond these three years what damage may be done to the institutions of our democracy,” Mr. Schiff told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Jan. 7.

Mr. Schiff is one of many Democratic lawmakers who has used the ongoing Trump-Russia probe as a basis for fundraising. Ms. Pelosi, meanwhile, managed to raise nearly $26 million through the first half of 2017 — an increase of more than $10 million from the last non-election year.

Yet, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schiff led the charge to both reauthorize Section 702 and strike down the reform amendment. In the aftermath of the votes, Mr. Schiff claimed the House had saved the country from “a crippling requirement in national security and terrorism cases.”

Ms. Pelosi’s influence in the vote was so significant that House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) thanked her in his remarks following the vote.

“I want to thank the minority leader for coming up and speaking against the Amash amendment, and in favor of the underlying, bipartisan amendment,” Mr. Ryan said.

By reauthorizing Section 702 and failing to pass the reform amendment, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Schiff, Ms. Kaptur, and 52 other Democrats have made it possible for the world’s largest surveillance apparatus to continue to spy on Americans without the explicit permission of a federal court.

This failure to protect American citizens is problem enough, but there are other hard questions raised by the extension, including why legislators who have argued that the President is dangerous have voted to extend his administration’s access to this largely unfettered surveillance program.

Read last week’s ‘Free Speech For Thee?’ column

For civil libertarians, the Trump presidency once offered the possibility that Congress would work to reduce the expansive governmental powers that accumulated since 9/11, that the protections provided under the 1967 Supreme Court case Katz vs. United States, which held that the Fourth Amendment protects individual privacy, might be restored. It is now clear that hope was naïve one

In the immediate aftermath of the House vote, the American Civil Liberties Union made a blunt declaration on Twitter: “The House just passed a bill to give the Trump administration greater authority to spy on Americans, immigrants, journalists, dissidents, and everyone else.”

The FISA Act votes have made it clear that lawmakers like Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Schiff, and Ms. Kaptur value their public profile and campaign war chests more than protecting the civil rights and privacy of American citizens.

It has been argued that we get the representation we deserve. I disagree. We deserve much better than this.

Contact Will Tomer at wtomer@theblade.com, 419-724-6404, or on Twitter @WillTomer.

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