Beware the NSA’s Ongoing Witch Hunt
2013-10-04 0:00

By Andrew Napolitano | Reason

While the nation’s political class has been fixated on a potential government shutdown in Washington this week, the NSA has continued to spy on all Americans and by its ambiguity and shrewd silence seems to be acknowledging slowly that the scope of its spying is truly breathtaking.

The Obama administration is of the view that the NSA can spy on anyone anywhere. The president believes that federal statutes enable the secret FISA court to authorize the NSA to capture any information it desires about any persons without identifying the persons and without a showing of probable cause of criminal behavior on the part of the persons to be spied upon. This is the same mindset that the British government had with respect to the colonists. It, too, believed that British law permitted a judge in secret in Britain to issue general warrants to be executed in the colonies at the whim of British agents.

General warrants do not state the name of the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized, and they do not have the necessity of individualized probable cause as their linchpin. They simply authorize the bearer to search wherever he wishes for whatever he wants. General warrants were universally condemned by colonial leaders across the ideological spectrum -- from those as radical as Sam Adams to those as establishment as George Washington, and from those as individualistic as Thomas Jefferson to those as big-government as Alexander Hamilton. We know from the literature of the times that the whole purpose of the Fourth Amendment -- with its requirements of individualized probable cause and specifically identifying the target -- is to prohibit general warrants.

And yet, the FISA court has been issuing general warrants and the NSA executing them since at least 2004.

Last week we learned in a curious colloquy between members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and Gen. Keith Alexander and Deputy Attorney General James Cole that it is more likely than not that the FISA court has permitted the NSA to seize not only telephone, Internet and texting records, but also utility bills, credit card bills, banking records, social media records and digital images of mail, and that there is no upper limit on the number of Americans’ records seized or the nature of those records.

The judges of the FISA court are sworn to secrecy. They can’t even possess the records of what they have done. There is no case or controversy before them. There is no one before them to oppose what the NSA seeks. They don’t listen to challenged testimony. All of this violates the Constitution because it requires a real case or controversy before the jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked. So when a FISA court judge issues an opinion declaring that NSA agents may spy to their hearts’ content, such an opinion is meaningless because it did not emanate out of a case or controversy. It is merely self-serving rhetoric, unchallenged and untested by the adversarial process. Think about it: Without an adversary, who will challenge the NSA when it exceeds the "permission" given by the FISA court or when it spies in defiance of "permission" denied? Who will know?


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