THE BLOG
06/06/2013 01:57 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2013

Unabated NSA Snooping: Congress & the Courts need to do their jobs to enforce privacy rights

This morning, I made a phone call to a client and started the conversation by stating "This phone call may be monitored by the National Security Agency (NSA)."

I have Verizon cell service. Yesterday, it was reported in the British publication The Guardian that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order.

Who knows, the NSA may be monitoring my writing of the column, all under the context of national security considerations in the alleged War on Terror.

This is the problem: There's really no meaningful oversight these days by Congress or the courts to monitor or outlaw such surveillance.

The news has been dominated lately by the Obama Administration's alleged misuse of executive and military power under the pretext of national security. The recent news unfolding on the extent of how our government is spying on us, and even killing American citizens, is eerily bearing out George Orwell's 20th Century vision of the future more than ever.

Last week, the headlines revolved around the Justice Department's questionable targeting of Fox News' James Rosen as an "unindicted coconspirator" that resulted in his and even his parent's phone records being monitored in an effort to determine who was leaking top secrets about North Korea's nuclear program to the national security reporter. Do your job as a journalist and face prison.

Now, we have been told that our phone calls are not private to any extent. Big Brother is listening in.

But while President Obama has dangerously pushed the limits of executive power and perfected Orwellian "doublespeak" in his administration's unfettered pursuit to monitor its citizen's movements and expression, there is little question of the ineffectiveness of judicial oversight that is in place to limit such intrusion in our life.

While it's very dangerous that Obama masks his lack of reverence for individual constitutional rights in continuous proclamations about his reverence for individual constitutional rights, it's just as dangerous that Congress and the judges charged with oversight are not limiting to any extent his administrations continued violation of our individual rights of privacy.

This type of sweeping surveillance has been going on since 2007 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which initially set the parameters for such surveillance and was extended by Congress last year for another five years.

Under FISA, there's a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is tasked with oversees requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States by federal law enforcement agencies (primarily the F.B.I.).

This court granted an order on April 25 requiring Verizon to give the NSA, on an "ongoing, daily basis" all telephone calls in its systems, both in the US and between the US and other countries. As a result, millions of US citizens are being monitored.

While FISA was enacted to set parameters for law enforcement and defense officials to collect physical and electronic surveillance and "foreign intelligence information" between "foreign powers" and "agents of foreign powers," the revelation of the Verizon order shows how unfettered such power really is when it pertains to domestic spying on American citizens.

And instead of just focusing in the Obama Administration, it's time to question whether there's enough constitutional safeguards are indeed in place to temper the unabated pursuit of information from American citizen's that's supposed to be private.

It's the job of Congress and the Judiciary to continuously guarantee that our constitutional rights are not being violated. The War on Terror does not provide any exception toward the prosecution of those duties.

We should all be able to pick up the phone and not worry who is listening in ala 1984.

Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications strategist who blogs at www.stevenkurlander.com and Kurly's Kommentary He writes in The Florida Squeeze, Green Door Magazine, and The Huffington Post. He can be emailed at kurly@stevenkurlander.com

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