The White House has engaged in an all-out spin operation to downplay its new warrantless wiretapping powers. Yesterday, White House spokesperson Dana Perino falsely alleged that the new law returns the FISA law to “its original intent.”
After the New York Times explained that “by changing the legal definition of what is considered ‘electronic surveillance,’ the new law allows the government to eavesdrop on conversations without warrants,” spokesperson Tony Fratto issued a statement attacking the Times, arguing that it is “highly misleading” to say Congress has broadly expanded Bush’s authority:
[U]nder FISA, court approval is required for the government to target an individual located in the United States, and nothing in the new law changes that.
Fratto’s claims are baseless. Today on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, former constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at Salon.com, debunked the White House’s claim that the new FISA law requires “court approval” prior to spying on an “individual located in the United States.” In fact, as Greenwald explained, the law now allows the government to “listen to our conversations, read our e-mails, with no connection to terrorism, with no proof that anyone has ever done anything wrong” — without judicial oversight.
Specifically, the new FISA law permits warrantless domestic surveillance in the U.S. as long as the target of the call or e-mail is “reasonably believed” to be overseas. The implication of this loose clause, Greenwald notes, is far-reaching:
The government can monitor every single phone call that London is making to you in Washington, D.C., to any of the viewers at home. … They can listen to every single international call that you make or receive, every e-mail that you write, and e-mail that you receive, in complete and total secrecy.
Under the new FISA law, the “sole authority” to authorize the warrantless surveillance of people is now granted to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.