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SUPREME COURT: 1984 Is Here, Get Used To It

 

NEW YORK TIMES: The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned back a challenge to a federal law that broadened the government’s power to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails. The decision, by a 5-to-4 vote that divided along ideological lines, probably means the Supreme Court will never rule on the constitutionality of that 2008 law. More broadly, the ruling illustrated how hard it is to mount court challenges to a wide array of antiterrorism measures, including renditions of terrorism suspects to foreign countries and targeted killings using drones, in light of the combination of government secrecy and judicial doctrines limiting access to the courts. “Absent a radical sea change from the courts, or more likely intervention from the Congress, the coffin is slamming shut on the ability of private citizens and civil liberties groups to challenge government counterterrorism policies, with the possible exception of Guantánamo,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at American University. MORE

RELATED: Senator Church is widely quoted in regard to the National Security Agency: “I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge… I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.” MORE

WIKIPEDIA: The Church Committee is the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) in 1975. A precursor to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the committee investigated intelligence gathering for illegality by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after certain activities had been revealed by the Watergateaffair. By the early years of the 1970s, the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and the unfolding Watergate scandal brought the era of minimal oversight to an abrupt halt [according to whom?]. The United States Congress was determined to rein in the Nixon administration and to ascertain the extent to which the nation’s intelligence agencies had been involved in questionable, if not outright illegal, activities. A series of troubling revelations started to appear in the press concerning intelligence activities. First came the revelations of Christopher Pyle in January 1970 of the U.S. Army‘s spying on the civilian population[1][2] and Sam Ervin‘s Senate investigations that resulted.[3] Then on December 22, 1974, The New York Times published a lengthy article by Seymour Hersh detailing operations engaged in by the Central Intelligence Agency over the years that had been dubbed the “family jewels“. Covert action programs involving assassination attempts against foreign leaders and covert attempts to subvert foreign governments were reported for the first time. In addition, the article discussed efforts by intelligence agencies to collect information on the political activities of US citizens.[4] These revelations convinced many Senators and Representatives that the Congress itself had been too lax, trusting, and naive in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.

The Church Committee learned that beginning in the 1950s, the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation intercepted, opened and photographed more than 215,000 pieces of mail by the time the program called “HTLINGUAL” was shut down in 1973. This program was all done under the “mail covers” program. A mail cover is when the government records without a warrant or notification all information on the outside of an envelope or package, including the name of the sender and the recipient. The Church report found that the CIA was zealous about keeping the United States Postal Service from learning that mail was being opened by government agents. CIA agents moved mail to a private room to open the mail or in some cases opened envelopes at night after stuffing them in briefcases or coat pockets to deceive postal officials.[5]

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) were inspired by the recommendations of the Church Committee.[9] Today, the FISC oversees requests for surveillance warrants of suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States by federal police agencies. Also as a result, Colby was replaced by George Bush as CIA director. Early on, critics such as Bing Crosby and Paul Harvey accused the committee of treasonous activity. The 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, a CIA station chief in Greece, intensified the public backlash against its mission.[10] The Committee’s work has more recently been criticized after the September 11 attacks, for leading to legislation reducing the ability of the CIA to gather human intelligence.[11][12][13][14] In response to such criticism, the chief counsel of the committee, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., retorted with a book co-authored by Aziz Z. Huq, denouncing the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 to make “monarchist claims” that are “unprecedented on this side of the North Atlantic”.[15]

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