UPI has a story about the FBI’s use of National Security Letters, which were declared unconstitutional by a federal judge last month, asking the question of whether the FBI is being “handcuffed” by such restrictions. It almost makes one weep to think of those poor FBI agents actually being forced to comply with the 4th Amendment.
National Security Letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to force telecom companies, ISPs, credit card companies and pretty much anyone else to turn over records on their customers to the government without any need to go to a judge, show probable cause and get a warrant. And they even forbid those companies from informing the client, or anyone else, that they’ve had those records turned over. Judge Susan Illston ruled last month that NSLs are a violation of the 4th Amendment, which they clearly are. But she stayed her order for 90 days to give the DOJ a chance to appeal that ruling, which they will undoubtedly do (remember that Obama’s record on civil liberties is pretty much appalling).
But the FBI doesn’t like this one bit. They claim that this “ties their hands” and prevents them from protecting us (be afraid, be very afraid!) against terrorism. But why would that be, exactly? It certainly isn’t difficult for them to get a search warrant from a judge. They even have their own secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, that they can go to, a court that has almost never denied such a warrant when requested. But the FBI — and the Obama administration — think even that tiny little minor safeguard is just too much to expect. 4th Amendment? Screw the 4th Amendment.
Glenn Greenwald is right when he says that the National Security State is now firmly in place with the full support of both major parties. It’s a matter of bipartisan consensus. Which means the courts are pretty much the only hope for putting any meaningful limits on the government’s ability to violate the 4th Amendment at will. And that’s not very reassuring.