After years of denial — much of which likely constituted perjury — officials of the National Security Agency (NSA) admitted to having conducted unwarranted surveillance of Americans, a violation of the protections against such searches provided by the Fourth Amendment.
Previously, NSA chiefs have confirmed only that the conversations of foreigners had been caught in the surveillance web, but the letter from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Senator Ron Wyden, released Tuesday by Wyden’s office, revealed that in fact Americans were directly targeted for monitoring.
Citing a recently declassified document, Clapper confirms that “there have been queries, using U.S. persons identifiers.”
In a joint statement issued by Wyden and Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) accompanying the publication of Clapper’s letter, the senators pointed out the NSA’s perfidy:
Senior officials have sometimes suggested that government agencies do not deliberately read Americans’ emails, monitor their online activity or listen to their phone calls without a warrant. However, the facts show that those suggestions were misleading, and that intelligence agencies have indeed conducted warrantless searches for Americans’ communications.
Udall and Wyden are not new to the fight to protect the enjoyment of rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. In an op-ed published last November in the New York Times, the pair wrote:
[The] framers of the Constitution declared that government officials had no power to seize the records of individual Americans without evidence of wrongdoing, and they embedded this principle in the Fourth Amendment. The bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records — so-called metadata — by the National Security Agency is, in our view, a clear case of a general warrant that violates the spirit of the framers’ intentions. This intrusive program was authorized under a secret legal process by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so for years American citizens did not have the knowledge needed to challenge the infringement of their privacy rights.
Despite his admission of knowingly targeting innocent Americans for surveillance of their private communications, Clapper claims that such activities are authorized by applicable law. “These queries were performed pursuant to minimization procedures approved by the FISA Court as consistent with the statute and the Fourth Amendment,” Clapper wrote.
Such justifications are meaningless when viewed through a constitutional lens. The FISA Court is a creation of the Constitution (purportedly) and cannot, therefore, be greater than that document. What the Constitution establishes, the FISA Court cannot destroy.
Moreover, this secret court is little more than a sieve, allowing every single government request for exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.
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