Another day, another revelation about government abuses of surveillance powers and Americans’ privacy. Now, many in Congress are pushing back against such violations.
The most recent domestic surveillance revelation comes courtesy of WikiLeaks, which describes the CIA’s efforts to hack home, business and public Wi-Fi networks. Once wireless internet networking devices are compromised, government agents “can easily monitor, control and manipulate the Internet traffic of connected users,” WikiLeaks explained in a news release. “By altering the data stream between the user and Internet services, the infected device can inject malicious content into the stream to exploit vulnerabilities in applications or the operating system on the computer of the targeted user.”
The project, known as “CherryBlossom,” has been in operation for years, perhaps going back as early as 2006. The disclosure is the latest in WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” releases about CIA cyberactivities, which include the creepy abilities to use the microphone from “smart TVs” to record audio in the room, while the TV appears to remain off, and to hack smartphones to take control of their microphones and cameras, obtain voice and text communications, and discover a user’s location. The agency was even attempting to hack vehicles’ computer control systems, potentially giving it the ability to remotely take control of a vehicle.
Such disclosures have led to a bipartisan revolt among many in Congress who resent the repeated trespasses of the NSA, CIA, FBI and other government agencies against Americans’ privacy and due process rights. In 2015, while considering reauthorization of provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that had allowed for dragnet bulk data collection, Congress passed the USA FREEDOM Act, which, though watered down, at least imposed some restrictions on the government’s surveillance activities.
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And the lines are being drawn on another major snooping reauthorization battle, this time affecting Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which is set to expire at the end of the year. Section 702 permits the NSA to spy on the communications of foreigners, though, in practice, this oftentimes lead to scooping up data on American citizens as well. Even worse, through what is known as the “backdoor search loophole,” the FBI and other agencies may search NSA databases for information about Americans collected under Section 702 without having to go through all that messy and inconvenient business of first showing probable cause of criminal activity and obtaining a search warrant.
“Government surveillance activities under the FISA Amendments Act have violated Americans’ constitutionally protected rights,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said last week in a statement. “We oppose any reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act that does not include substantial reforms to the government’s collection and use of Americans’ data.”
As with many other constitutional restrictions on its power, the government has largely simply ignored Fourth Amendment protections. In order to avoid turning the Fourth Amendment into a dead letter, lawmakers in both parties must demonstrate some backbone and stand up to the surveillance state to protect our privacy rights, especially in this digital age.