NSA’s power should worry us all

It appears the very agency accused of spying unconstitutionally on Americans now has the authority to stop anyone who objects. Two recent court rulings make that clear.

In 2013, a U.S. district court judge ruled the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone data on most Americans violated the Fourth Amendment. NSA officials insist they gather only general information and do not actually monitor the contents of calls.

But recently, a federal appeals court overturned the 2013 ruling. One key to the new decision is a contention plaintiffs in the case did not prove they were harmed personally by the surveillance. But one member of the three-judge appeals court panel noted it is possible the NSA will refuse to turn over information that could help plaintiffs pursue the case.

In other words, the new ruling means the NSA can block court challenges simply by refusing to provide information. That must have given government lawyers a fox-guarding-the-henhouse chuckle.

But in another case, a federal appeals court had ruled against the surveillance program. It continues, however, because the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court – the ultra-secret judicial body overseeing the spy program – said the appeals court was wrong.

At that, the “fox” must have burst out laughing.

Fortunately, the phone records program will die in six months, because of action by Congress. Perhaps members of the Senate, who must confirm presidents’ appointments of federal judges, should do more questioning on nominees’ allegiance to the Constitution.

Thinking of going to Washington to protest the failure by federal courts to protect our basic rights as Americans? Want to let the U.S. Supreme Court know that upsets you?

Don’t bother. Another federal court ruled this week that protesters attempting to exercise First Amendment free speech rights can be barred from the plaza in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington.