The Spy Clause: NSA’s Intrusion Now Fully Legal

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The $1 trillion+ spending bill passed by Congress last week has attracted opposition from both sides of the aisle. While conservatives lament Republican surrender on amnesty and Obamacare and liberals lament campaign finance tweaks and Wall Street regulation reform, another piece of legislation has flown largely under the radar. Perhaps that’s only fitting, considering that Congress authorized what some have called the most un-American legalization of government intrusion in history.

Spy Games

The world was aghast when Edward Snowden released documents proving the extent to which the National Security Agency was spying on Americans. Collecting phone records and details that should have been prohibited except in the wake of a warrant, the NSA has been keeping very close tabs on American activity. Congress, in their Intelligence Authorization Act, managed to include a clause that gave the NSA the freedom to collect nonpublic data for the next five years. Section 309 of the bill gives allowance for the “acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of said data.

What is “nonpublic data?” Well, in government parlance, it refers to the content of calls, texts, emails, credit card bills, and bank statements. And the NSA needs neither a warrant nor any official reason whatsoever to go digging through the trove. If they want to look at your communications, they now have the full legal authority to do so.

Unlawful Search and Seizure

Infuriatingly, the response to this kind of government intrusion is often something along the lines of, “Hey, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” I might expect that kind of justification from a moron on the left, but I usually hear it from fellow conservatives. How, I wonder, do these conservatives find it in themselves to put that much unwarranted faith in the U.S. government, especially when it has shown itself to be so very untrustworthy?

Besides, the constitutional standard for search and seizure is not based upon any such bumper-sticker sentiment. Instead, it is based on prohibiting just the kind of privacy-invasion Congress just authorized. If the U.S. government wants to take a look inside your house, your car, or your electronic data, they need to prove they have probable cause to do so. Concerns about radical Islam, online drug sales, and anti-government speech do not trump the 4th Amendment.

Rep. Justin Amash was the sole congressman willing to stand loudly against such an authorization. The tea-party libertarian staged an unsuccessful fight against the clause, writing on social media that it was “one of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative.” He went on to say that it “grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.”

In an age where almost every political issue is split right down the middle between conservatives and liberals, this is one where we should be able to count on bipartisan agreement. And indeed, that’s just what we’ve seen. Unfortunately for Americans, what both parties agree on is that the president of the United States should be able to spy on any citizen he chooses. That may make us somewhat more secure from terrorist plots, but – as always – the question looms overhead: what are we giving up for that security?