Gene Healy and I have an op-ed in the OC Register today giving some historical background on the FISA debate:
The Senate voted Feb. 12 to authorize warrantless domestic surveillance of Americans’ international phone calls and e-mails. Unlike the legislation the House passed in November, the Senate version allows the government to spy on its own citizens’ international communications without meaningful judicial oversight.
In 1976, a special Senate committee revealed massive abuses of power by the FBI, the National Security Agency and other government agencies. One notorious case was the FBI’s attempts to undermine and discredit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The bureau tapped King’s phones and bugged his hotel rooms. The FBI used the information in attempts to discredit King with churches, universities and the press.
For three decades, the NSA obtained copies of virtually all telegrams to and from the United States without court oversight. The NSA also tapped international phone calls. From 1967-73, the NSA kept a “watchlist” of surveillance targets that included many Americans.
Congress passed FISA to make sure this sort of thing never happened again. If Congress eviscerates it, there’s a real danger that it will happen again.