Congress Moves to Rein in Illegal Wiretaps

The JUSTICE Act, short for the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts Act, was brought to my attention today. The JUSTICE Act seeks to put constraints on the Bush-era USA Patriot Act and FISA Act Amendment which drove national security efforts here at home post-9/11.

In the past, I have been a very vocal critic of the previous administration and their liberal assumption of power not explicitly granted to them by the Constitution. Namely, the use of these powers was, in my book, impeachable offenses. That Administration has come and gone, but the PATRIOT Act and FISA still haunt us to this day.

We in the technology community should be alarmed.

The JUSTICE Act, however, brings some sanity to this process. I’ve read a significant portion of the bill (embedded below) and it goes a long way in improving the current situation that allows the government, based on their say so, to direct communications companies (cable, satellite, phone, wireless carriers, ISPs, etc) to hand over data on American citizens without warrant, and in a far-reaching and unfetter fashion. By placing investigations behind a veil of opaquenes that is unable to be questioned even by other courts, the executive branch of government, under the Bush Administration and in the name of National Security, assumed an exclusive lock oninvestigatory powers without constraint.

3531416607_3e8e066127This bill does what should have been done with the previous bills – considerations for Due Process, First Amendment rights and checks and balances.

Notably, the JUSTICE Act attempts to place the limitation and focus of National Security Letters (directives issued from the Director of the FBI) back on foreign powers and places significant protectionary road blocks between the government and the citizen.

While I do not trust the government to actually be able to do the right thing, the fact that this bill is introduced tells me that there is a recognition that when checks and balances are in effect, as they were intended to be, it’s much harder to do the wrong thing. It’s called accountability and the more we have, the better we’ll be.

EFF is hosting a call to action, allowing folks to automatically send a note to their Senators.

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

10 thoughts on “Congress Moves to Rein in Illegal Wiretaps”

  1. I’m surprised that it is still in force. That should not have been allowed in the first place. I guess, though, that the new administration is so busy trying to fix so many huge problems that this just hasn’t been moved up to the front burner!

  2. I might be able to share in the optimism if I thought this thing had a chance of going anywhere. Feigngold and Durbin have been leading the fight against the PATRIOT Act, but they haven’t been able to bring the rest of their party along with them yet.

    Just recently, Obama was claiming that the three most controversial provisions should stay intact. The executive branch claims any abuses have “already been reformed and taken care of.” I would be really surprised if this bill goes anywhere, and if it does it will probably be watered down to the point where it doesn’t change much.

    Of course, that shouldn’t stop us from making a lot of noise about it. Its more like an explanation of why we need to.

  3. Good! I always want the government to have the ability to protect us, but I thought the legislation was very broad and kind of gave away an amazing amount of power to the government. They could get a warrant after investigating someone with a wire tap… I think they need to have some judges on hand 24/7 to issue warrants on a moment notice, because a warrant should always be issued prior to search and/or seizure of a home or information.

  4. Aaron, I agree with your opinions on this. It bothers me to see more and more of our rights as private citizens being eroded by Washington and the state governments. I wish they would take a moratorium for this next session of Congress and not introduce any new legislation at all. They should go back over all the garbage already on the books and if they cannot justify having some of the old laws or they need to be updated, then they should fix them or get rid of them.

  5. It saddens me that so many people don’t understand that We The People collectively allow the government to exist through the collective granting of our rights. The 10th Amendment even states that any right not explicitly spelled out is retained by We The People unless legislated otherwise. Meanwhile so many sheep blindly sit back and allow the agents of government to act as though it’s the other way around.

  6. “We” in any community should be alarmed.

    The illegal wire taps aren’t the only thing to be alarmed about, what about the indefinite detentions and arrests that can take place without probable cause? You can be arrested secretly and stowed away for years in some prison cell without ever having actually committed a crime and without any due process what so ever of access to a lawyer.

    The number one concern and prerogative of government is to maintain its own infrastructure, even though our current federal government is illegitimate and over loaded with unconstitutional laws and departments and misappropriations of tax payer dollar. Whoever in the American public who vocally dissents is now considered a terrorists who is jeopardizing the infrastructure.

    I’ve heard the ultimate goal of all of this is to create a North American Union, something like the European Union. This idea has become pretty popular, it’s even satirized in a game online, 2011: Obama’s Coup Fails. I found it by googling “usofearth”.

    I wonder how far from the truth it is, or how outside the realm of possibility. We already have a government that pays no acknowledgement to the Constitution what-so-ever. We have elected officials that have all taken an oath to uphold it and show us through their terms that they never had the slightest intention in maintaining those oaths. How long do you think it’ll be before they try to scrap the Constitution all together?

    Technically they already have with the Patriot Act, anyway.

    Obama lied when he said he’d do away with it, and no one after him will do away with it either.

  7. I wonder if Obama lied or was just being naive? It is easy to make big promises until you get in place and see how complex everything is, and how difficult – if not impossible – it can be to effect change in Washington.

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