Biden Increases Spying on Americans

The White House backed surveillance reauthorization that, despite a fresh record of routine abuses, expands security agencies’ spying power, writes Kevin Gosztola.

U.S. President Joe Biden addressing Department of Defense personnel, Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

By Kevin Gosztola
The Dissenter

On April 20, Edward Snowden declared, “America lost something important today and hardly anyone heard. The headlines of state-aligned media screech and crow about the nefarious designs of your fellow citizens and the necessity of foreign wars without end, but find few words for a crime against the Constitution.”

The NSA whistleblower was referring to the United States Senate reauthorizing and expanding surveillance under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

President Joe Biden circulated a memo that cast the Fourth Amendment right to privacy as a “threat to national security.” Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Attorney General Merrick Garland called members of Congress to ensure that they voted to give spy agencies renewed power.

Specifically, “Patriot Act 2.0,” as Representative Zoe Lofgren called it, broadened the definition of service providers and exponentially increased the power that the government has to force numerous business and industries to aid warrantless surveillance.

Senator Ron Wyden strongly opposed the legislation and even introduced an amendment that would have prevented this assault on civil liberties. But the Senate rejected his effort to protect privacy.

“The Senate waited until the 11th hour to ram through renewal of warrantless surveillance in the dead of night,” Wyden stated. He also added:

“It is clear from the votes on very popular amendments that senators were unwilling to send this bill back to the House, no matter how common-sense the amendment before them.”

Although the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) renewed Section 702 until April 2025, allowing lawmakers plenty of time to appropriately draft and amend legislation, panic was stirred by Biden and the national security state.

Wyden, who has a track record of challenging surveillance, did not mince words. He described the provision that he fought, which was dubbed the Make Everyone A Spy provision, as “one of the most dramatic and terrifying expansions of government surveillance authority in history.” He said:

“It allows the government to force any American who installs, maintains, or repairs anything that transmits or stores communications to spy on the government’s behalf. That means anyone with access to a server, a wire, a cable box, a wifi router, or a phone. It would be secret: the Americans receiving the government directives would be bound to silence, and there would be no court oversight.”

Forcing More Spying on Customers

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaking to reporters in August 2021. (White House/ Erin Scott)

The Biden administration applauded the passage of legislation that expanded warrantless surveillance. Sullivan stated:

“The President will swiftly sign the bill into law, ensuring that our security professionals can continue to rely on Section 702 to detect grave national security threats and use that understanding to protect the United States.”

Section 702 used to primarily apply to telecommunications or technology companies. Now, as detailed by Demand Progress, Section 702 may be used to force business landlords, cleaning contractors, delivery personnel, utility providers, etc, to help U.S. security agencies spy without probable cause.

Entities and individuals required to help with surveillance cannot speak about it. Their First Amendment speech rights are curtailed as they violate their customers’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

Also, according to Demand Progress, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Jim Himes drafted the expanded surveillance reauthorization without defining terms like “any other service provider,” “access to equipment,” or “custodian.”

Only as a result of opposition did security hawks insert an exemption for coffee shops, hotels, and libraries.

Writing about the impact on journalism for The Nation, longtime national security journalist James Bamford wrote:

 “A requirement could easily be added to Section 702 that compels the need for a warrant as soon as an NSA employee or FBI agent recognizes that the communication involves a journalist conducting an interview, or an attorney engaged in a conversation with a client or source.”

“In the end,” Bamford argued, “insight gained from the American journalist’s interaction with a foreign source may be far more valuable and provide considerably more insight than inhibiting sources to interact with journalists.”

The FBI consistently abused the surveillance power it was granted under Section 702 before the authority was reauthorized. It is a certainty that the FBI will abuse this ill-defined authority handed to them by Biden and Congress.

No Justification For Opposing Warrant

Mike Johnson delivers remarks following his election as speaker of the House on Oct. 25, 2023. (By Office of Speaker Mike Johnson, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

House Speaker Mike Johnson was at one point an opponent of warrantless surveillance under FISA. He claimed that he shifted his position because as Speaker he is privy to “confidential briefings” that have showed him how critical Section 702 is to “national security.”

“I personally used 702 authorities at NSA,” Snowden responded.

“There is absolutely nothing in any briefing of any level, then or now, that would justify opposition to recognizing the government’s obligation to seek a warrant for searches of Americans’ communications, which are constitutionally-protected.”

“And frankly, let’s be serious: the NSA and FBI have plainly demonstrated that they’re more than comfortable violating the law when they feel it binds too tightly. 278,000 times just for one auth: 702. Millions and millions of times under others for [President Barack] Obama. And on a literally innumerable scale under [President George W.] Bush—we couldn’t even count it.” Snowden added:

“So let’s not pretend that, in the apocryphal ‘ticking time-bomb’ scenario of the Hollywood imagination, that a series of agencies which have since their inception been characterized by a criminally casual respect for the Constitution would feel in the slightest way encumbered by something as parochial as the law. After all, the legislation rarely ascribes penalties for federal infractions.”

The House Judiciary Committee passed legislation—the Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act—at the end of 2023 that would have required a warrant for any U.S. person search. However, through the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. officials thwarted attempts to constrain the national security state.

“Entities and individuals required to help with surveillance cannot speak about it. Their First Amendment speech rights are curtailed as they violate their customers’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights.”

During a private meeting on reauthorization, WIRED reported that Turner “presented an image of Americans protesting the war in Gaza while implying possible ties between the protesters and Hamas, an allegation that was used to illustrate why surveillance reforms [would be] detrimental to national security.”

It is highly likely that antiwar or pro-Palestinian protests, particularly on college or university campuses, will be targeted. Biden will probably have no problem with using this expanded spying power against students.

A day after Biden signed the reauthorization bill, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates accused student demonstrators opposed to Israel’s assault on Gaza of “echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organizations.”

Backing National Security State

US President Barack Obama addresses C.I.A. employees in Langley, Virginia, alongside the agency’s director Leon Panetta on April 20, 2009. (Lawrence Jackson, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Back in 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama campaigned against retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that helped Bush engage in warrantless wiretapping. He even promised to filibuster the FISA Amendments Act.

But Obama voted for the bill when there were 46 different lawsuits pending against the companies and angered many progressives and civil liberties advocates.

“Only as a result of opposition did security hawks insert an exemption for coffee shops, hotels, and libraries.”

Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, did not even pretend to support reform, greater accountability, or limits to government surveillance. Fifteen years after Obama flip-flopped, Sullivan, his national security advisor, made it clear that the administration believed that “failure to reauthorize Section 702” would be “one of the worst intelligence failures of our time.”

He additionally urged Congress to reauthorize Section 702 “without new and operationally damaging restrictions on reviewing intelligence” and “with measures that build on proven reforms.” That was subtle language, which sent a message to representatives and senators that Biden opposed adding a warrant requirement to protect Americans’ privacy rights.

Hawkish lawmakers, intelligence officials, and the Biden White House conspired to pass an updated surveillance law that not only avoided meaningful reforms but also expanded the law in a way that U.S. intelligence agencies could only dream about a year or two ago.

For many months, news reports detailed stories of spying abuses and enraged lawmakers. That gave some hope to those in favor of privacy that Congress might rein in government surveillance. Yet the national security state stayed the course. They once again hid the truth from elected officials, accelerated the process, and fear-mongered and spread propaganda to escape accountability.

Kevin Gosztola is the editor of The Dissenter Newsletter at and the author of the book Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case Against Julian Assange

This article was published by The Dissenter.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

23 comments for “Biden Increases Spying on Americans

  1. robert e williamson jr
    April 26, 2024 at 21:49

    If something doesn’t happen soon to put a stop to this lunacy The Home of the Brave is going to be the United States of Zionist Empire. Very likely claiming one new state.

    The Super Red Flag is the Administration in Washington and the joint congress refuse to see the reality nationwide of public reaction.

    Those populating the cesspool there refuse to listen to reasonable demands addressing domestic and foreign issues as promoted by the younger portion of the population.

    In response the powers that reside in this environment of filth driven greed strive to oppress their opposition by force. No free speech, no freedom to meet, no right to private vocal intercourse through electronic means.

    They work for us they are not there to rule us, however ruling is what they strive for.

    Our government appears to fear it’s citizenry.

    Both major (?) political parties are mirror images of the other. Both strive to accomplish the exact same authoritarian oppressive rule of the populace. Both owned by Super Wealthy Elitists – The Sweats.

    An Ill Wind blows to us from the future.

  2. Caliman
    April 26, 2024 at 12:23

    “Democracy is on the ballot,” as we all know …

    What amazes me is the lack of foresight … the next (and much more savvy) Trump will have all kinds of tools available to him to build his totalitarian paradise, and the Democrats like my representatives have enabled that.

    • Barbara
      April 26, 2024 at 17:07

      Truman did not do this in his first term, why would he change policy now.

  3. Carolyn L Zaremba
    April 26, 2024 at 11:24

    Welcome the STASI to YOUR town!

  4. Vera Gottlieb
    April 26, 2024 at 09:54

    What an ODIOUS nation…

  5. Tony
    April 26, 2024 at 09:00

    Noam Chomsky points out in some of his books that governments greatly fear their own populations.

    • Barbara
      April 26, 2024 at 17:21

      In 1955 my friend’s husband was killed in an Air Force plane crash. The crash was not investigated. The government did send a crew to the crash site to pick up what body parts they could find. This was in the caskets for the families to bury.
      From the time of the crash to 1966 many times when she finished a phone call, she heard a ‘click’. The wiretap hung up before she did, so she heard the sound.
      The taps stopped after her children graduated from high school, and she got a job.

  6. Lois Gagnon
    April 26, 2024 at 07:33

    It’s looking more and more like our only option is a prolonged national strike. Shutting this totalitarian machine down is essential to our survival.

    • Foghorn
      April 27, 2024 at 11:00

      If carried out successfully it likely only needs a few days. Transport unions are the key. Strikes by truckers, railroad workers, air traffic controllers, bus and subway drivers, and longshoremen could cause a halt to all commerce. Add in school teachers and nurses and you could in one single day strike myocardial panic in the heart of Wall Street. Just one day, and the promise that next time it will be three days and see what happens. Depending on the demands being made I’d give it those three days before the PTB caved.

      This is something that a true revolutionary political party would be working towards non-stop. Pity we don’t have one in this country.

      • Tony Huffy
        April 28, 2024 at 07:52

        The sad fact is that if a strike of the immense scale you describe were to be organised, the governing politicians would be pressured, like always, to condemn the organiser’s as traitors, or even as foreign actors.
        The organiser’s would be arrested and held without charges under the guise of national security.
        So no, that would be a bad idea.

  7. April 25, 2024 at 23:26

    Might I venture that the reason Mike Turner abruptly shifted his stance on Section 702 surveillance (among other things) upon gaining the speakership is very likely the same reason why Barack Obama did (inasmuch as either of them were not already thoroughly compromised from the outset), fitting into a rich tradition of the NSA conducting illegal surveillance on US legislators and officials from Frank Church to Strom Thurmond to Michael D. Barnes to Eliot Spitzer to Jane Harman to Dennis Kucinich (sometimes hoisting them by their own petard), per the revelations of earlier ECHELON whistleblowers such as Perry Fellwock, Margaret Newsham, and Mike Frost, alongside outlets and institutions such as The Washington Times, Congressional Quarterly, and GWU’s National Security Archive, presumably to facilitate campaigns of blackmail and intimidation:

    “Russ Tice worked as an offensive National Security Agency (NSA) analyst from 2002 to 2005, before becoming a source for this Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times article exposing NSA domestic spying [Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, “Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report,” The New York Times, Dec. 24, 2005].


    Tice claimed that he held NSA wiretap orders targeting numerous members of the U.S. government, including one for a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.


    Tice added that he also saw orders to spy on Hillary Clinton, Senators John McCain and Diane Feinstein, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, Gen. David Petraeus, and a current Supreme Court Justice [Samuel Alito].”

    Michael B. Kelley, “ORIGINAL NSA WHISTLEBLOWER: I Saw The Order To Wiretap Barack Obama In 2004,” Business Insider, June 22, 2013

  8. Rafi Simonton
    April 25, 2024 at 21:48

    No way. We’ve been told how the crazy Rs are the bad guys and the Ds the good ones, even calling Joe Biden another FDR and assuring us another New Deal is being enacted.
    The Wall Street agenda, like financial deregulation and getting away with 2008, has been repudiated. The administration is vociferously objecting to the oligarchical Citizens United ruling. As well as to the reprehensible practice of mass lay-offs by corporations that not only take public money, but enable CEOs use lay-offs to fund personal gain while producing nothing.
    Since it’s of benefit to a New Deal style Democratic party to encourage democracy and to respect the Bill of Rights, this can’t be true. Only an elite convinced it has the right to rule could possibly… Wait–you say the Biden admin is full of neolibs and his State Dept. full of neocons?!! That the D party is funded by 1%er donors and corporations whose view of democracy and economic equity is decidedly negative?!
    Say it ain’t so, Joe.

    • Barbara
      April 26, 2024 at 17:13

      FDR spied on various citizens. His son laughed at the Watergate angst because he knew his father had ordered spying on certain people.
      More interesting is the number of Russian spies who worked in FDR’s government. Stalin knew before many government officials what was happening before the US government did.

      LBJ spied on Nixon ‘s campaign headquarters. Nixon had inside information from Kissinger, who was working as an aid for Johnson.

  9. Afdal
    April 25, 2024 at 19:41

    It’s very disturbing how little media coverage there was on this bill in the weeks leading to its passage.

    • Steve
      April 26, 2024 at 09:53

      The MSM are just one of the tools of the state (social media is another), why would they oppose more abuses by their paymasters ?

  10. April 25, 2024 at 19:26

    Thank You Kevin

  11. Andrew Nichols
    April 25, 2024 at 17:46

    Shows well how all the Western Minority World angst over Huawei and alleged chinese spying via Tiktok is nothing more than a contrived projection. ie We spy like the Stasi on our citizens and force tech providers to give us access…so they must be doing it too. Therefore we must ban their stuff…Cant have competition you.know…A pity our media is an arm of the state as the masses really need to.know this. Instead it is being reported as an uncontroversial normal govt action akin to setting the budget for education.

    • Steve
      April 26, 2024 at 10:06

      And let’s not forget that the ‘five eyes’ group was set up specifically to circumvent national laws and allow it’s members to spy on each others citizens.
      Even without this surveillance authorisation, the USA was able to spy on its citizens via spy bases in Canada, Australia, UK and New Zealand. If it’s on the internet it’s surveilled.

  12. Linda in California
    April 25, 2024 at 17:08

    It’s becoming clearer and clearer who the enemy of the people is. Don’t forget it, folks.

    • Mike
      April 26, 2024 at 00:25

      The enemy is the government!!

  13. Theresa Barzee
    April 25, 2024 at 16:49

    Time to turn the scope of surveillance onto these law (breakers) makers & build up our power to put them all on notice. We have phones for you! Constitutional scholars included! Start now. Grief and fury at fascism contagion.

  14. Jeffrey Blankfort
    April 25, 2024 at 16:35

    As if to underline the danger, when I clicked on the link to this very important article, a warning appeared on my screen warning me that this page, Consortium News, was unsafe and likely to commit fraud and that I should click and go back safely. I didn’t but it’s clear the situation has worsened under Biden.

  15. Carolyn/Cookie out west
    April 25, 2024 at 15:10

    Oh, so where are the progressive Democrats? Voting for this plus more money to the Industrial Military Complex! Conforming to the Dem Party line no matter what it is!

Comments are closed.