In an entirely expected development, on December 28, while talking heads were yammering non-stop about the so-called “fiscal cliff”, the Senate quietly passed a five-year renewal of the repulsive FISA Amendments Act, re-legalizing warrantless spying on Americans and ensuring that the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of individualized suspicion before conducting surveillance remains a dead letter.
The interesting questions here are two. Why is it that the media is not giving such a gross violation of the Constitution the weight it deserves? And, why is there much more public interest in other issues?
Scott Shackford over at Reason.com has an effective article about the media presentation of this issue:
Indeed, the very secrecy behind the application of federal domestic wiretapping has made it impossible to introduce a human narrative. We do not even know how many Americans have been spied on due to these rules (which was what Wyden’s amendment was trying to fix). Like our foreign drone strikes and indefinite detention laws, the public’s distance from the actual rights violations (and government-fueled fears of acts of terrorism) is a useful barrier for the state to get away with expanding its authority beyond the Constitution’s limitations without significant voter pushback.
Whereas, just about everybody’s on Facebook.
Bluntly, the government is obsessively secret about its surveillance program at least in part for propaganda purposes. It is a lot harder to object to a program when you can’t identify the people who have been harmed, or put a face to the story. The kind of surveillance that is the subject of litigation in Jewel v. NSA, for example, where all phone calls in an exchange were routed through a secret NSA-run room, is deeply disturbing because of the awesome potential power it gives to the government, rather than because of actual prosecutions that have been mounted using improperly obtained evidence.
Perhaps, also, this is a topic that is difficult for the TV media to deal with in the time they have. It’s hard to get across to people within the span of a short broadcast how much Congresspeople of both parties are self-deceiving and willing partners in the shredding of the Constitution. It’s much easier to go with the straightforward, patriotic narrative that these measures are necessary. The Democrats agree, the Republicans agree, most Beltway commentators agree, so where’s the controversy to report?