FBI Director Robert Mueller during a news conference on the gathering of personal information. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
They're calling it a tweak -- a "technical clarification" -- but make no mistake: The Obama administration and the FBI's demand that Congress approve a huge expansion of their authority to obtain the sensitive Internet records of American citizens without a judge's approval is a brazen attack on civil liberties.
Here's how it was supposed to be. Under his administration, candidate Barack Obama explained in 2007, America would abandon the "false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide." There would be "no more National Security Letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime" because "that is not who we are, and it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists." Even after his disappointing vote for the execrable FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which expanded government surveillance power while retroactively immunizing telecoms for their role in George W.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, right, and Sen. Russ Feingold. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
George W. Bush may have left D.C., but the vast surveillance machine he spent eight years building via the PATRIOT Act hums merrily along. Whether or not that continues could well be determined today, as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to mark up legislation renewing a series of PATRIOT Act powers due to expire at the end of the year. Barack Obama's Justice Department has said it's open to "modifications" of the expiring powers -- but some Democratic legislators see an opportunity to revisit and revise the whole architecture of post-9/11 spying law.