Time to abolish the FISA court

Time to abolish the FISA court
(Screen cap by author)

[Ed. – Another government apparatus that has outlived its usefulness.]

Lost in the competing narratives [in re last week’s release of the Carter Page FISA warrant] … is the larger FISA scandal. The Page warrant confirms that a FISA court effectively insulates those who deploy the most formidable powers of the federal government from the consequences of what should be an extraordinary decision: spying on a fellow American.

Like so many other bad ideas, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act comes out of the 1970s. Senate hearings led by Idaho Democrat Frank Church exposed controversial domestic spying on Americans. Along with the general antipathy toward all things Nixon, it led Congress to enact FISA in 1978 and Jimmy Carter to sign it into law.

In the decades since, the nation has become accustomed to having oversight and accountability that should be imposed by the people’s elected representatives fobbed off on special counsels, inspectors general and the like. We forget what a break FISA marked with our history, under which only the president, as commander in chief, was understood to have the power to surveil American citizens without warrants to gather foreign intelligence to protect the nation. The new idea aimed to temper that power by introducing another branch, the judiciary, into this process.

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