The following policy statement has been issued by the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota:
The National Security Agency's PRISM Program
Public Policy Statement , June 20, 2013
From Timothy B. Lee, reporting for The Washington Post:
Since the Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the existence of the NSA’s PRISM program last week, there’s been a confusing debate about what exactly the program is and how it works. While the Obama administration has tacitly acknowledged the program’s existence, tech companies have angrily denied that they had given the NSA “direct” or “unfettered” access to their servers...
We know that PRISM is a system the NSA uses to gain access to the private communications of users of nine popular Internet services. We know that access is governed by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was enacted in 2008. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tacitly admitted PRISM’s existence in a blog post last Thursday. A classified PowerPoint presentation leaked by Edward Snowden states that PRISM enables “collection directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and other online companies.
The Washington Post further reports on emphatic denials issued by the heads of these online companies, who claim their role in surveillance against American citizens has been largely exaggerated.
Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat representing Minnesota's Fifth District, has joined fellow Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon in disputing President Barack Obama's claim that “every member of Congress” has been briefed on the PRISM program. Ellison told ABC's “This Week” that he knew “almost nothing” about the program, could not locate any invitation to a briefing, and may not have been able to attend such a briefing even if there had been one.
As the Washington Post reports, ambiguity exists in current law regarding what the government may or may not do in pursuit of foreign intelligence.
While the NSA may not have unfettered access to tech companies’ servers, there are still serious questions about the breadth of the information the government is collecting, and whether that information is subject to appropriate judicial oversight. FISA orders are not search warrants under the Fourth Amendment, and the FISA Amendments Act doesn’t require the government to show probable cause to believe that the target of surveillance has committed a crime.
Defenders of the NSA’s activities argue the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply because FISA orders only target non-Americans. Instead of showing probable cause to a judge, Section 702 of FISA allows senior Obama administration officials to “authorize” the “targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.” The surveillance may not “intentionally target” an American, but the NSA can obtain the private communications of Americans as part of a request that officially “targets” a foreigner.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the constitutionality of these provisions. In February, the Supreme Court threw out a legal challenge to the law because the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that they had personally been the target of surveillance. It’s not clear whether any of the recent revelations will give FISA opponents enough evidence to convince a court to rule on the program’s merits.
The Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota (RLCMN) categorically opposes the PRISM program, believing it to present a broad vulnerability to individual liberty. The RLCMN calls upon the Republican Party of Minnesota, its activists, officers, candidates, and elected officials, to stand united against grants of access to private data which circumvent a publicly recorded due process.
In the best case scenario, where the PRISM program works in tandem with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain targeted intelligence regarding foreign non-citizens suspected of presenting a threat to national security, the fact remains that a lack of public oversight recently prompted National Public Radio's Dina Temple-Raston to affirm the impression that “it's a rubber stamp, and that the government always gets what it wants.” The FISA court has granted 100 percent of the government's applications for surveillance. No judicial process can be said to both uphold individual rights and side 100 percent with the state.
The RLCMN believes that the PRISM program ought to be suspended pending a full and public investigation by Congress.
The RLCMN supports the following key elements of this issue:
The Fourth Amendment: The RLCMN believes that the spirit and intent of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is unambiguous in its protection of each individual's right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Public information: The RLCMN believes that, if the government is doing nothing wrong, it should not hide its actions from its citizens. This style of argument, too often used against citizens to justify the violation of their rights, is rightly turned upon the state. If probable cause can be demonstrated, “supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” then it should be done publicly.