Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My day in the FISA court

When I received the call for jury duty at the FISA court I was mad at first. Then the FISA limo picked me up at my door and provided the most pampered ride I could imagine. There was fresh coffee in that limo, bottomless mimosas, my own private foot masseuse and a DJ, videos and video games, and marshmallows, so many marshmallows, no end of marshmallows. How could I stay angry?

I’m not sure exactly where we went, because the limo windows were tinted black on the inside, so I couldn’t see out of the car. That was just part of the pampering, I’m sure, to make sure my ride to FISA court was as pleasant as possible.

They explained to us that we were the first FISA jury pool ever, brought to make the FISA process more open and accountable, and to provide “the appearance of oversight and democratic legitimacy.” It was an honor, really.

I’ve been called to jury duty before, and this was nothing like those other jury duties. First of all there was hardly any waiting; we were brought right into the court room with no dilly dallying whatsoever. Second, we were given free wifi access and allowed, even encouraged, to use our smartphones to browse, play, facebook, whatever we wanted. And the internet was fast! I mean really, really, really fast!  For some reason my smartphone had forgot all my password and I had to re-enter them, but other than that, no problems. (Oh yeah, there was another problem in that none of the Instagram pictures I took showed up in Instagram later—that’s weird—I probably did it wrong.)

I don’t remember a whole lot about the trials themselves, sorry to say, because there was so much going on on Facebook, and I had five simultaneous Words with Friends games to contend with, and my boss kept bugging me with emails about this and that, but when I did look up there was always something interesting going on in the courtroom.

Not everything was what I’d expected. For instance, in this courtroom instead of a gavel the judge had a rubber stamp, and he would slam down his rubber stamp any time someone put a piece of paper in front of him.

Also it was kind of weird that they were saying “redacted” all the time. “redacted this” and “redacted that”.  For instance, one time the prosecuting attorney said “I call Redacted to the stand.” A person wearing a paper bag over their head sat at the stand, and the attorney said “Mr. or Mrs. Redacted, is it true that if we were to get legal authority to retrieve Redacted’s phone call with Redacted from May redacted’th this year, that we’d clearly hear Redacted say, at minute readacted and redacted seconds, ‘I’d like to redacted that fucking redacted with a goddamn redacted and shove his I-Redacted-S up his fucking ass’, as transcribed in this document?”

The court-appointed defense attorney jumped right up: “I object to the use of ‘fucking’ and ‘goddamn’ in a courtroom, even if quoting such a despicable and obviously guilty terrorist as the accused.”

“Objection sustained,” said the judge. “The prosecution will redact that vulgarity.”

“Expletive redacted.  Now, Your Honor, if it may please the FISA court, I submit as exhibit A the transcription of the May redacted’th conversation we will have recorded if we receive court authority to have recorded that phone call between terrorists Redacted and Redacted.”

“Let the court records show,” said the judge, as he dropped the transcription into a shredder beside the bench, “that exhibit A has been accepted by the court and examined by the jury.”

We did have one troublemaker in the jury. This one woman said “excuse me, judge, but why is everything redacted?”

“Because” answered the judge, patiently “some people in this court room do not have the security clearance to see that sensitive information.”

“Who can’t see it?”

“The Jury can’t see any of it, of course. Heck, I can’t look at most of it myself without risking our national security.”

I thought that was a fine answer. I don't want to risk national security any more than the next guy and, besides, I was certainly in no mood to give them any trouble since they continued to fill me with marshmallows of all kinds. Peeps. Chocolate covered marshmallows. Roasted marshmallows. Microwaved. Tiny, floating on hot chocolate. Tiny, picked out of Lucky Charms. All kinds of marshmallows. I don’t know how the heck they knew I loved marshmallows so much, just a lucky guess, I guess (I usually don’t tell anyone about my intimate marshmallow passion except when we’re being, you know, intimate) but as long as the mallows were flowing I was in no mood to argue with anyone about anything.

But that one annoying jury member, she just wouldn’t stop asking questions, like: “Excuse me, your honor, but I thought you said the NSA couldn’t spy on Americans, so how did they get this information on an American?”

A guy in a black suit and sunglasses said to her “it’s true we can’t legally spy on Americans, only on foreigners, but the English can legally spy on Americans, because to the English every American is a foreigner, and because we can legally spy on England (which is easy because our intelligence agencies share splitters on all the undersea cables) we get their information on anyone (who is not English), without breaking any laws. For instance, just to prove our capabilities,” said the man in black, as he received some pages a deputy of the court had just run into the room to deliver, “here’s some information intelligence has legally received from the English spies about what you were doing online last Tuesday between 1:24 and 1:37pm.” He showed the papers to the jurist, who seemed positively impressed with the quality of the information. “Would you like us to play to the court and your fellow jurors the telephone call you had this morning while your husband was out walking the dog?”

That seemed to satisfy the juror, who only said “I redact my question” and stopped being so annoying after that.

After a few hours of legal proceedings (and the completion of 3 games of Words with Friends, 2 wins, 1 loss), one of the court clerks, who until this time had been sitting quietly with headphone on staring at a computer, shouted “whoa, everybody, I just got a hot tip that the big pharmaceutical merger is going to fall through… you should hear the nasty things the CEOs are saying to each other.” Court was instantly dismissed and everyone was suddenly let go with a few final instructions from the judge to call our stockbrokers and make the best of this hot tip.

And you know, despite my initial skepticism, that final event is what really sold me on the strength and quality of the FISA court. If it is run by people so smart that even the lowliest FISA court clerk can figure out the intricacies of the pharmaceutical industry, and is clever enough to turn that hunch into a profitable stock-market maneuver,  then they must be dealing with some really, really smart people.

All in all a very rewarding day.

So if you’re called for FISA jury duty, don’t make up excuses, don’t shirk your civic responsibility. Go. Just go. You never know, you might even earn something. oh, yeah, I almost forgot: and you'll be stopping terrorism.

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