FISA: Don’t Hold The Phone

FISAYou gotta love this. You know the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)? It’s the act that sets up courts to make sure that secret wiretaps of suspected foreign agents were all above board—that law enforcement agencies weren’t going crazy just wiretapping everyone. You may remember that the Bush administration was very unhappy with it because it was getting in the way of keeping America safe the way the administration did right up to the morning of 11 September 2001.

Funny thing about the FISA courts. The government has made 38,093 requests from 1979 through 2011. In that time, the FISA courts have denied—Wait for it!—just 11 requests. In fact, before 2003, they never denied a request. Of the 11 rejections since then, 10 were during the Bush administration. To some extent, this understates how much the FISA courts do. Often the courts get the government to modify their requests. These are things like, “You want 39 wiretaps, but we’re only gonna give you 38!” So it is still pretty bad.

What is most remarkable about this is that during the Bush administration, 14,353 requests were made (38% of all requests). And note: this is a much higher request rate than either of the administrations surround it. I think this means that the Bush administration was just generally more interested in spying than in protecting anyone. Nonetheless, given the very large number of requests and the the very low number of denials (0.07%), what was the big deal the administration made of the FISA courts?

Regardless of all this, we ought to take note of just how feckless is “government oversight.” The fact is that all of the power players in the public and private sectors are inbred. They take care of there own and under most circumstances they don’t care at all about the little people like you and me. If you see the American Revolution as a war between the people and the aristocracy, then we lost that war. The aristocracy won. And silly us who think that one part of the aristocracy is going to protect us from another.

H/T Matt Taibbi

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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