FISA Amendment Just In Time To Steal Election
By Elliot D. Cohen
Senate Democrats and Republicans alike are now poised to pass H.R. 6304, known as the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, a bill touted by both House and Senate leaders to be a compromise proposal to prior Senate Bill 2248. Unfortunately, H.R. 6304 may give the Bush administration, in its last months, the ammunition it needs to hijack the 2008 presidential election.
It has been known for some time that, since 2001, the Bush administration has conducted mass surveillance of the email and telephone calls made by American citizens. All electronic messages passing through switches in the US, regardless of whether they were international or domestic communications, have been systematically intercepted and screened by the National Security Agency (NSA). Technologies, which were installed at major hubs of telecommunication companies throughout the nation copy and deposit all electronic messages into a giant NSA computer network. The NSA then uses complex algorithms to parse through these messages using matching criteria such as key words, phone numbers, and dates, and linking these data to further data--anything from credit card and bank records to movie rentals.
H.R. 6304 does not, on the face of it, require that these complex algorithms that are used to parse through our electronic messages be examined and approved by a FISA Court. The role of the FISA Court seems to be limited to approving the general design of the software used in conducting acquisitions of information. This consists of reviewing the authorizations made by the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence to see if this general design satisfactorily conforms to "minimization procedures," that is, that they take reasonable precautions to avoid targeting American citizens. However, without access to the algorithm itself, as well as to the actual source code and a representative sampling of the data that ultimately get caught in its electronic net, there is no way to confirm that the actual procedures pass legal muster and are constitutional.