Few books in history are as insightful as George Orwell’s magnum opus 1984. And quite frankly, in this era of big government and executive overreach–not just a slight at number 44–few literary works have so accurately described the current landscape. Readers are wowed, but also terrified, at this quote from the classic novel, “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” At the heart of this fear-inspiring comment is this–everyone knows it’s true. How willfully and gleefully society hands it’s personal freedom into the hand of a totalitarian government in promise of “security” and “peace” and “well-being”. Orwell, writing in 1949, knew the human proclivity to err on the side of “ignorance is bliss.” Today Big Brother is alive and well, seemingly present in all aspects of life. However, this year, personal freedom will deal a blow to Big Brother–assuming the political elites let FISA 702 perish.
Meet FISA 702
FISA 702 is a piece of legislature that was passed by Congress in 2008 in an attempt to allow the government to “obtain the communications of foreigners outside the United States, including foreign terrorist threats.” According to its website, the update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is a key tool of the federal government “that has helped to thwart numerous terror plots including the 2009 conspiracy to bomb the New York City subway.” The act itself is subject to several layers of oversight, with all three branches of the government playing a part.
Yet despite some of its successes, the act has continually come under public scrutiny. Several years ago, Edward Snowden leaked that FISA 702 was being used “as the legal basis for the collection of large quantities of telephone and Internet traffic passing through the United States,” confirming the suspicions of many that the act was another justification for government overreach and an expansion of government spying programs.
Others have gone so far to allege that FISA 702 is the source of “unlawful targeting of communities of color and immigrant communities.” Lest anyone think that only Republicans–the act was a product of Bush II’s administration–are under public criticism for violating privacy rights, one report notes, “National Security Agency and FBI violated specific civil liberty protections during the Obama administration by improperly searching and disseminating raw intelligence on Americans or failing to promptly delete unauthorized intercepts.” Though the act claims to target “non-U.S. persons reasonably believed to be outside the country,” history has shown us that U.S. citizens and residents have been caught in the crossfires.
The Future of FISA 702
The act is set to expire later this year. However, Congress will be given the chance to review the act in its current form and grant reauthorization if they see fit. Though it remains to be seen how the federal government will act, it is possible that the legislation will be reauthorized.
Proponents of the act cite its successes and point to arguments in favor of its constitutionality. Those opposed to the act raise serious questions concerning citizen privacy and personal freedom, also noting how the act grants the federal government the necessary authorities to spy on U.S. citizens–intentionally or not. Whatever case the case may be, the public will know soon whether or not Congress will renew FISA 702’s charter. For the time being, Americans can sleepy easy with the comforting words resounding “Big Brother is watching you.”