$886 Billion Military Bill with Mass Surveillance Extension: A Dangerous Overreach

The U.S. Senate, in a move that underscores a worrying disregard for privacy rights and fiscal responsibility, has just passed a staggering $886 billion military policy bill. But what’s even more alarming is the inclusion of a four-month extension to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This extension passed with a significant bipartisan majority, raises serious concerns about the continued encroachment on civil liberties.

Section 702, initially intended to surveil non-U.S. citizens outside the country, has morphed into a tool for the mass surveillance of American citizens, activists, journalists, and even lawmakers, all without a warrant. It’s a classic example of government overreach under the guise of national security, and it’s happening right under our noses.

The ACLU, Brennan Center for Justice, and other advocacy groups have highlighted the misuse of Section 702, where the FBI accessed communications of thousands of protesters, racial justice activists, donors to political campaigns, and even members of Congress, all without warrants. These are not isolated incidents but represent a pattern of abuse, a blatant violation of the constitutional right to privacy.

It’s disheartening to see 31 Democrats among the 65 senators who voted to keep this extension in the military policy bill, turning a blind eye to these violations. The bill, which now heads to the U.S. House, needs a strong opposition to block it, with at least 146 votes required. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is leading the charge, urging its members to stand against the NDAA, citing both the exorbitant defense spending and the inclusion of the surveillance extension as key reasons for opposition.

The CPC’s stance is a ray of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape. Their formal recommendation against the NDAA highlights not just the unjustifiably high defense budget but also the alarming inclusion of a surveillance authority that has been consistently used against Americans. This is not a matter of national security but a clear violation of privacy rights.

It’s time to ask hard questions: Why is the Pentagon receiving such a colossal budget despite failing six consecutive independent audits? Why are we allowing a provision that enables warrantless spying on Americans to be tucked away in a must-pass military policy bill? It’s a blatant misuse of legislative power, serving the interests of the military-industrial complex and surveillance state, rather than the American people.

This bill’s passage with the FISA extension is a worrying sign. It underscores the need for vigilant and informed citizenry and representatives who are committed to protecting the privacy and rights of individuals. The NDAA, in its current form, is not just a military policy bill; it’s a testament to the priorities of our lawmakers and a litmus test for our commitment to civil liberties and democratic principles.