Putting aside all the allegations of a massive all seeing prism eye in the sky program, this is where the real breakdown of our constitution occurs. It’s a couple of Senate Democrats on the intel committee and EFF vs. the FISA court and Justice Department in a battle to just discover the breach. Somewhere out there is a ruling that in at least one instance the government violated federal surveillance laws.
From David Corn at Mother Jones:
In the midst of revelations that the government has conducted extensive top-secret surveillance operations to collect domestic phone records and internet communications, the Justice Department was due to file a court motion Friday in its effort to keep secret an 86-page court opinion that determined that the government had violated the spirit of federal surveillance laws and engaged in unconstitutional spying.
This important case–all the more relevant in the wake of this week’s disclosures–was triggered after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate intelligence committee, started crying foul in 2011 about US government snooping. As a member of the intelligence committee, he had learned about domestic surveillance activity affecting American citizens that he believed was improper. He and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), another intelligence committee member, raised only vague warnings about this data collection, because they could not reveal the details of the classified program that concerned them. But in July 2012, Wyden was able to get the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify two statements that he wanted to issue publicly. They were:
* On at least one occasion the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court held that some collection carried out pursuant to the Section 702 minimization procedures used by the government was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
* I believe that the government’s implementation of Section 702 of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] has sometimes circumvented the spirit of the law, and on at least one occasion the FISA Court has reached this same conclusion.
Personally I have no doubts that our constitution has been folded, mutilated, and even spindled at a few points during the GWOT. However it’s not due to some massive conspiracy or government program and I doubt that it’s endemic.
Instead when looked back at in retrospect the violations will most likely turn out to be very human and sordid failings and short-cutting of programs and process coupled with ignorance by a small hand full or two of individuals. After a decade of popular shows like “24” and “NCIS LA” where every plot device seems designed to allow the protagonists to find reasons to violate rights it’s reasonable to assume that at least a few individuals in security agencies can’t separate the facts from their favorite fictions.