I’ve just had a chance to play around with C-SPAN’s clip-and-share functionality from its video archives, which seems like a pretty great tool for wonks like me who actually pay attention to stuff like last week’s marathon Senate debate over the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, which President Obama signed on Sunday evening. With the Fiscal Cliff firmly lodged in the headlines, most news media paid scant attention to the reauthorization—though the Rachel Maddow Show did have me on to talk about it. Now, at least, C-SPAN has made it relatively easy to assemble the important points from these legislative debates without spending hours fussing with video editing software. This strikes me as having great potential to enable crowdsourced efforts to draw attention to undercovered stories in an engaging format. So here are what I saw as some important moments from the FISA debate—mostly legislators proposing some extremely mild, common-sense reforms and safeguards that all got shot down.
Sen. Ron Wyden explains that the FISA Amendments Act isn’t just about foreigners, as supporters ritually claim, but can easily result in large-scale interception of Americans’ communications as well:
Once collected, Wyden outlines how the government can then use a “backdoor search” loophole in the law to circumvent the traditional Fourth Amendment requirement of a search warrant:
Concerns about backdoor searches are bipartisan, as Utah Republican Mike Lee makes clear:
Yet Congress can’t even know how many Americans are caught up in NSA’s vacuum cleaner, which makes claims of “rigorous oversight” rather hard to credit:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein claims there’s a secret reason that even a ballpark estimate of Americans intercepted is impossible to make. The general public can’t know why this basic form of accountability is off-limits, but legislators can go visit a secure facility to read the secret reason if they want:
Know what else is secret? The rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that determine what the law actually means in practice, and how much surveillance power it really grants the NSA—as Sen. Jeff Merkley explains:
Ron Wyden finds it outrageous that Americans are effectively living under secret law; most of his colleagues, alas, do not: