By: Christian J. Watson
On September 7th, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats penned a letter to congressional leaders, pleading with them to reauthorize the draconian, Orwellian Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Survelliance Act (FISA). Section 702 is the statute the NSA derives its authority to conduct their highly unpopular and unconstitutional PRISM program, in which they compel entities of the free market to relinquish the data of their consumers for the purposes of “national security.” One of the more infamous blunders of the PRISM program was in 2013 when it came to light that the Obama Administration’s NSA compelled Verizon to supply it with a constant stream of telephone data coming from their millions of customers. All in the name of, of course, national security.
The prevailing rationale behind this move was for the NSA to be able to easily intercept and dissect calls to terrorist states, as it is apparently assumed that anyone making a call to the Middle East must be facilitating or aiding a terrorist activity. Those were the only calls that would really be affected.
This move was a flagrant violation of the 4th amendment and the basic blessings of liberties ensured to us by our founders and the various founding documents of this nation.
Despite this abuse and a pleothera of others, Jeff Sessions and Dan Coats do not seem particularly fixated on ensuring blunders like this do not happen again, or on adding a provision in the bill that ensures suspected terrorists are given due process rights before the state pounces on them. All of this is seemingly beneath their worries.
However, they are worried about ensuring the government has uninhibited, unequivocal authority to seamlessly conduct these operations. In the letter it was requested that no amendment be made to the bill “beyond removing the sunset provision,” which has served as a check for congress to debate and, if necessary, make amends to the roving powers of the federal government. His rationale for removing this critical tool of transparency? To “avoid any interruption in our use of these authorities to protect the American people.”
This letter should be thrown away and incinerated with a paper shredder. It is an absolute tragedy that the Attorney General of the United States is asking for his power to remain unchecked by congress and checked by the Department of Justice, the agency he has complete and utter jurisdiction over. That arouses many conflicts of interests and possible incidences of corruption to continually apparate into the American government.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Jeff Sessions has recently announced his eagerness to perpetuate the unconstitutional practice of asset forfeiture, meaning the government can seize someone’s property without them being formally convicted or charged of a crime. Not only this, but Sessions’ legislative record has spoken louder than any of his recent actions. He voted against various NSA curbing measures as a senator, voted to reauthorize and expand provisions of the Patriot Act, supported the intrusion of the state into marriage by railing against the Obama administration for refusing to defend DOMA (one of the very few things we can laud President Obama for), and has all around been statist in his measures.
We should allow Section 702 to expire on the basis of principle and on the basis of the empirical reality we are faced with. The state should not have the authority to compel a private entity to relinquish their data when there is no legitimate, tangible reason for doing so. Legitimate and tangible are not satisfied by monitoring the data of millions of Americans. Not only that, it should not have the authority to monitor Americans without a warrant provided by an open, transparent court susceptible to the oversight of congress and other independent organizations. To allow this to persist would be a continuing besmirchment to our Constitution and to the freedoms we hold in high regard.
If a bureaucrat like Jeff Sessions is so bold as to suggest that congress rescind its authority to annually debate and oversee this matter and to relegate that same authority to the Department of Justice which the Attorney General himself is the head of, for the sake of transparency, then that bureaucrat is dangerous and has no respect for the separation of powers or checks being levied against his power.
The Senate and the House should stand up in universal condemnation of this letter and of Section 702 and should refuse to reauthorize it until a suitable, transparent alternative can be found. We cannot afford to give the government the power to check itself, for when one is accountable to themselves and only themselves there is truly nothing to keep them within the bounds of their power.
And that is the reality we must prevent from coming to fruition.