While the mainstream news is feverishly tracking Congress as of late, all of its focus is surrounding the Fiscal Cliff. And though that outcome will certainly have major economic repercussions, this state of indecision isn’t the only story worthy of attention. In fact, what the legislators can agree on might be even more alarming than what they can’t agree on. Congress has quietly made three major decisions of dubious constitutionality that everyone should be aware of:
1. Indefinite Detention of Citizens Is Still on the Books
Last year, the NDAA included a provision that permitted the United States to hold its own citizens it suspected of terrorism indefinitely without a trial. Although the issue was kept fairly quiet, many of the citizens who were knowledgeable on the topic were outraged at the loss of a fundamental right.
While President Barack Obama initially claimed he was hesitant to sign the bill with that stipulation, confusingly, his administration would later go on to appeal two court decisions that found the indefinite detention clause unconstitutional.
Fortunately, Congress made an attempt to overturn its poor decision from the previous year. By a 2/3 majority, Senators agreed to amend 2013’s NDAA bill to remove indefinite detention; their stance was not to be soft on terrorism suspects, but to give them their day in court as the Constitution guarantees.
And then, for reasons that are not altogether clear, the new provision was stripped. Congress voted on a version of the bill that did not include the amendment. Senator Rand Paul, the often controversial Kentucky Republican, fingered Senator John McCain as the culprit, calling the decision an “abomination.” “This is so fundamentally wrong and goes against everything we stand for as a country that it can’t go unnoticed,” said Paul.
Despite these vocal objections from Paul and some fellow Senators, they still voted to pass the revised 2013 NDAA bill unanimously. As it stands, your right to a trial is not actually always a right anymore.
2. The Government Can Read Your Emails…
A month ago, we worried that Congress would permit the government to read citizens’ private emails without reason. When concerns were raised about email privacy went public, an amendment was added to the bill to forbid government agencies from snooping without a warrant.
Just like the NDAA situation, however, that amendment mysteriously disappeared from the bill Congress actually voted on. Now, no such protections are in place.
So, again, as it stands, the government permits itself to read your email without a warrant, as long as someone claims it is part of an “investigation” – which could include anything, really.
This practice seems to fly in the face of the Fourth Amendment. Granted, this country’s forefathers did not make a stipulation specifically about email, but it shouldn’t be hard to equate emails with modern day letters, which are protected from warrantless searches.
3. …And Listen to Your Phone Calls
The perpetual spying went even further when, on Friday, the Senate voted to continue warrantless phone tapping of citizens for the next half decade. If government agencies are conducting investigations on potential terrorist threats (which is left to their own discretion, of course), they have the right to listen to your phone conversations and read your text messages. Officials do not need a judge’s approval or even reasonable cause to utilize the wiretapping capabilities.
Known as FISA, this Fourth Amendment-defying power began during the Bush administration. Obama has said he very much supports this legislation, so there is no legitimate hope for a veto.
We are losing formerly constitutionally protected rights before our eyes, so why is it not receiving much attention? And why is it that even when Congressional members seem to see that it is fundamentally wrong – that these laws mysteriously get passed without the reasonable amendments?