U.S. intelligence agencies are telling us not to worry about the FISA Amendments Act, a 2008 law that allows the NSA to tap into the communications of “non-U.S. persons” who are outside the U.S., even though this law sidesteps the Fourth Amendment as it allows the NSA to record the emails and phone calls of U.S. citizens who happen to be communicating with people overseas.
How many American citizens is the government listening in on? We don’t know, as the intelligence agencies told Congress they can’t say just how many American citizens they’ve eavesdropped on (without warrants).
Despite this, they say Congress should just renew the controversial section 702 of the Act before it expires in December; in fact, they want it to be made permanent law.
Congress would probably do this too if it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve recently learned their privacy is also at stake. Recent “unmaskings” show that even a congressman’s conversations with a foreign official might go public with their names un-redacted. Then, even if the member of Congress didn’t do anything wrong, what they said and whom they spoke with could quickly be taken out of context by the media outlets that root for the opposing team.
“We cannot live in fear of our own intelligence community,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). “They have such power to suck up every bit of every transmission, every communication we ever made. We can’t just have them willy-nilly releasing that to the public.”
In this case Paul is not a lone gadfly. Politicians from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), aren’t so keen about what this law can do to them. They’ve learned that this is a new age when elected officials, not just privacy advocates, fear not just leaked facts, but innuendo and out-of-context spin from off-camera conversations or email exchanges.
Some Republicans even used a debate at a recent congressional hearing to suggest Obama administration officials had purposely unmasked elected officials and then leaked the info to harm Trump administration officials. Specifically, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power have been accused of unmasking Trump administration officials and expanding who could see the documents in an effort to get them to leak.
All of this is very new and confusing to our politicians. But, as fiction can gaze just beyond the headlines to show us where we are going and how we might keep our freedom in this changing world, my novel Kill Big Brother takes this plot to its dramatic end. What I found while researching and writing the book is there are ways to keep our intelligence agencies strong enough to protect us while keeping our freedom.