It’s great to know that our elected representatives are vigilantly guarding civil liberties. Only, they’re much more concerned about surveillance in other countries, not here in the USA.
Case in point: China. Over the last few weeks, congressional civil libertarians have revived legislation that, if enacted, would forbid U.S. companies from selling electronic surveillance equipment to governments that spy on their citizens.
H.R. 2771, the inspirationally named “Global Online Freedom Act” is intended:
“To prevent United States businesses from cooperating with repressive governments in transforming the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance, to fulfill the responsibility of the United States Government to promote freedom of expression on the Internet, to restore public confidence in the integrity of United States businesses, and for other purposes.”
That’s great! Except that all ten sponsors of H.R. 2771 voted two years ago to legalize warrantless surveillance of American’s electronic communications, in the infamous “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008.” What’s more, they also voted to prevent prosecution or lawsuits against any of the telecommunications companies that participated in illegal warrantless surveillance prior to the enactment of the FISA bill.
Surveillance at home is A-OK. But when it comes to other governments surveiling their citizens—well, we can’t have that, now can we?
There’s no question that countries like China repress political opponents more vigorously than the United States. But before Congress begins criticizing other countries’ human rights record, it needs to look in the mirror. If it’s so concerned about surveillance abuses, why not repeal the FISA Amendments Act and return the law to where it was when the Bush administration entered office in 2001? The earlier law, while hardly perfect, at least required the government to obtain a warrant to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of Americans.
That won’t happen, of course. Barack Obama, who swept into office campaigning against the surveillance abuses of the Bush administration, now claims even wider inherent authority to eavesdrop on Americans than Bush. Indeed, the Obama White House now claims that government “is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying—the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes.”
But, you can count on Obama and Congress to continue criticizing electronic surveillance abuses. As long as they occur in other countries, that is.
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Nestmann
(An earlier version of this post was published by The Sovereign Society, http://www.sovereignsociety.com)