The following op-ed was authored and submitted to Breitbart Texas by Congressman Ted Poe.
Nearly two years have passed since a then-unknown 29-year-old nerd-turned-international fugitive aired the NSA’s dirty secrets to the world. Edward Snowden is no patriot. However, the alarming information about the NSA’s abuse of power he revealed cannot be ignored. Until Snowden, most Americans were unaware that their own government was trampling on their Fourth Amendment rights. Most people did not know their every move could be tracked by Big Brother. They trusted that this agency acted purely in the interest of national security to keep us safe. Not only were Americans in the dark on this, but so were many Members of Congress (including myself) who voted for legislation that NSA then used and abused to conduct its rogue activities.
Post 9/11 and with two ongoing wars, many believed that government surveillance – including warrantless searches and seizures – was limited to foreign nationals, not American citizens. That would be consistent with federal law and the Constitution. But this did not happen. For example, NSA uses Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act permits targeted surveillance when that surveillance is justified by a court. Instead, NSA collects bulk meta data—such as surveillance of phone numbers in whole zip codes or phone carriers. These Soviet Style dragnet tactics went far beyond the scope of what Congress authorized in Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Government simply cannot disregard the law just because it is inconvenient.
We also now realized that the agency has misused and expanded the intent of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). NSA uses Section 702 as a means to gather not only data but content and to allow law enforcement to later search this data for information about American citizens without a warrant. Because it gathers and searches content of individual communications, Section 702 is more intrusive than Section 215. FISA permits the collection of such data of a suspected agent of a foreign power, but the federal government is also storing and later searching the content of emails, text messages and phone calls of American citizens — all without a warrant. In the course of this collection, the data of American citizens, many of which have done nothing wrong or illegal, gets collected. That kind of reverse targeting of American citizens is not what Congress intended, is inconsistent with the Constitution and must stop.
The NSA has claimed it has no interest in monitoring the activity of “ordinary” Americans. My response to that is simple: then don’t do it. But, most Americans have a hard time accepting that line. They question that for the simple fact that had Edward Snowden not revealed what was really going on within NSA in the first place, this snooping and spying would still be going on in the dark shadows of government operations. And, equally important, they know that this snooping and spying is still going on today.
It’s time for Congress to reign in this blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment and stop the warrantless searches Americans. This issue—protecting the Fourth Amendment—has unified liberals and conservatives. This week, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) and I introduced the End Warrantless Surveillance of Americans Act. The bill would prohibit warrantless searches of government databases for information that pertains to U.S. citizens. It would also forbid government agencies from mandating or requesting “back doors” into commercial products that can be used for surveillance. The legislation mirrors an amendment we offered to the USA Freedom Act, which was backed by a broad bipartisan coalition including Members of Congress and outside groups across the political spectrum.
The USA Freedom Act that passed out of the Judiciary Committee last week is an improvement over current law and a step in the right direction. But we can do more to protect the Fourth Amendment. In addition to stopping bulk data collection, Congress should also act now to fix the other loophole and stop warrantless searches under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Failure to address this gaping loophole in FISA leaves the constitutional rights of millions of Americans vulnerable and unprotected. This bill also ensures that the federal government does not force companies to enable its spying activities. The NSA has and will continue to violate the constitutional protections guaranteed to every American unless Congress intervenes. Until we fix this and make the law clear, citizens can never be sure that their private conversations are safe from the eyes of the government.
Last year the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed similar legislation as an amendment to DOD Appropriations. Congress should do all that it can to reform our national intelligence agencies and to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans, including passing this legislation to close the loophole and ensure that the NSA abides by the letter and spirit of the law. It is our duty to make this right and ensure that the Fourth Amendment rights of the people we represent will no longer be trampled on by the NSA. And that’s just the way it is.
Congressman Poe is a senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee and a former Judge.