Thursday, January 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Government surveillance overreach unchecked

Since 9/11 the nation's surveillance agencies have used a wider net to intercept international communications of potential threats. It was a step too far when Congress authorized a 2008 expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that removed most constraints on the government's ability to sweep up international communications that include Americans. A ruling Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court that prevents a group of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists from challenging the law shuts the courthouse door on an effort to protect Americans' privacy rights and diminishes the system's checks and balances.

Among those who sought to challenge the law's constitutionality are lawyers who represent Guantanamo detainees, human rights researchers who track down people rendered to other countries by the CIA, and journalists whose sources are people who have been suspected terrorists, their families and associates. The plaintiffs asserted it is highly likely their communications with their overseas contacts have been intercepted by the National Security Agency acting under the 2008 FISA changes. Even if that is not the case, they say, they have still been harmed by the law because they have had to pay the costs to avoid the possibility of the government overhearing their conversations, flying to face-to-face meetings and other expensive precautions.

But that logic did not win the day. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the 5-4 majority that included the court's four conservative justices and Justice Anthony Kennedy, said that since the plaintiffs could not demonstrate they had been surveilled, they did not have the legal standing to bring suit.

Of course, the NSA surveillance program is highly classified. It is impossible for the plaintiffs to know whether their calls, texts or emails have been intercepted. And there's the difficulty. If no one can know if they have been victimized, no one can bring suit and the law is immune from legal challenge.

The decision relinquishes the duty of the judicial branch to ensure that the rights of individuals are not trampled by the other branches and that the rest of government acts consistent with the Constitution. It dangerously puts the court's imprimatur on tactics that both the Bush and Obama administrations have employed to keep potentially illegal government activities associated with national security from being reviewed.

While the law still requires the government to obtain a warrant from a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, it strips away much of the court's oversight. No longer does the government have to describe specific targets of the surveillance, permitting a scattershot approach. The changes allow the government to scoop up the communications of thousands of people or more, including Americans, without any individualized suspicion that they are involved in terrorism.

By refusing to let Americans who might be harmed by this law bring their case to court, the court's conservative wing has sent the president a message that there will be no legal consequences for running roughshod over rights.

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Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18