Is Your Senator Using The Distraction Of The Debt Ceiling To Support The Feds Secret Interpretation Of Spying Laws?

from the sneaky-sneaky dept

We were just reporting on how Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was tap dancing around some specific questions about how much warrantless spying on Americans US federal intelligence agencies do. Much of that discussion revolved around the controversial FISA Amendments Act (recursively called the FAA) of 2008, which you may recall as the law that both made warrantless wiretapping officially legal (despite the fact that the federal government had been doing it for years under a very questionable legal theory) and granted telecom companies retroactive immunity for having helped the feds get such wiretaps despite the lack of warrants (and, in some cases, nothing more than a post-it note asking for it).

The FAA is set to expire in 2012, but, as we’ve seen with any law that grants the federal government more power to spy on Americans without oversight, there is no way the folks in power want to give up such things. Now come reports that, while most of Congress is focused on that whole debt ceiling thing, some have decided this is the perfect cover to quickly and secretly re-up the FAA. It’s been reported that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is likely meeting behind closed doors today in an effort (by some) to re-up the FAA now, before anyone even realizes it’s being debated. The last thing they want is pesky civil libertarians to re-start the discussion about the general constitutionality of spying on Americans without a warrant (believing in the 4th Amendment is sooooo old fashioned).

In trying to hunt down more details about what’s going on, we found out that Senators Wyden and Udall — who, as we’ve been discussing, have been trying to stop the federal government from secretly interpreting these laws in ways that seem contrary to what most believe the laws say — are trying to add an amendment to this attempt to reauthorize the FAA. It’s difficult to see how anyone can, in good conscience, vote against this. It includes such basic truths as:

In democratic societies, citizens rightly expect that their government will not arbitrarily keep information secret from the public but instead will act with secrecy only in certain limited circumstances.

The amendment specifically says that the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence would need to explain “the problems posed by the reliance of government agencies and departments on interpretations of domestic surveillance authorities that are inconsistent with the understanding of such authorities by the public.”

Who could possibly vote against that?

Well, tragically, since this supposed meeting is “closed” (though not classified), the Senators get to hide from view for a while. It’s one of those arcane Senate rules that are all too often used to allow Senators to avoid public scrutiny for their actions. While no members of the public or press are allowed in the room, and those in the room cannot tell what anyone else says (or votes) in the room… since it’s not classified the Senators who are in the room can absolutely say what they said or did in the room. The specific votes on this particular amendment will be made public three weeks after the markup occurs, buying anyone voting against it three weeks of cover (and when the votes come out, they can pretend this is “old news”). The amendment itself is not secret or classified. Senators cannot reasonably claim that they can’t say how they voted for “national security” reasons (a popular cop out) because their votes are going to be made public. The only reason to not answer the question of how they voted is because they want to avoid scrutiny.

So… if your Senator happens to be on the Senate Intelligence Committee now would be the time to call, email, tweet, fax, carrier pigeon, etc. to ask them whether they voted to let Americans know how the government is secretly interpreting its own laws… or if they voted against your basic fundamental rights to know how the government interprets its own laws. The list of Senators on the Committee are as follows:

  • Dianne Feinstein, California (chair)
  • Saxby Chambliss, Georgia (vice chair)
  • John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia
  • Olympia J. Snowe, Maine
  • Ron Wyden, Oregon
  • Richard Burr, North Carolina
  • Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland
  • James Risch, Idaho
  • Bill Nelson, Florida
  • Daniel Coats, Indiana
  • Kent Conrad, North Dakota
  • Roy Blunt, Missouri
  • Mark Udall, Colorado
  • Marco Rubio, Florida
  • Mark Warner, Virginia

If any of these Senators represent you, please reach out to them as soon as possible to ask them how they voted on the amendment embedded below, and please report back to us with what you hear. Let’s not let certain Senators allow the government to make up its own rules and not tell the American public what those rules are.

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Comments on “Is Your Senator Using The Distraction Of The Debt Ceiling To Support The Feds Secret Interpretation Of Spying Laws?”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: feinstein being chair = why we have problems

feinstein is one of the most anti-constitution folks being involved in this whole matter.

Yeah, I was just thinking that myself. A lot of good it will be to send an email to Herr Feinstein. Talk about clueless…she only knows what Disney tells her to know. I remember sending her a letter about DMCA, and how stupid and abused it will eventually be, and I got a letter back telling me that it was absolutely necessary to keep the businesses of the constituents in her state in business, and that there were plenty of things in the bill to reduce or eliminate all of my concerns. It was obviously a form letter, but it was also pretty obvious that a lot of people already wrote her with these concerns and she pretty much handwaived over the concerns without addressing any of them. And now, the DMCA is here, it is being abused and nothing in the DMCA reduces or eliminates those concerns we had.

At that point, I realized that Herr Feinstein doesn’t care about people, and only cares about the money the few companies she caters to give her. I’ve voted against her every time, but someone here keeps electing her back in office.

jon doe says:

Re: Re: And people say R is on the side of big business...

This is just a “dems are bad, republicans are good” statement. Stuff like this just goes to show how similar both parties really are. We really just have a 1 party system with a false presentation of 2. The media is just as at fault because anytime any non-repub/dem might gain some traction, they can just not cover them, thus shutting them out. Back when Perot was running he had to fight his way tooth and nail to even get on the debates..

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Whoa

Careful Mike, you’re starting to sound like some conspiracy nut.

Hmm. Really? I’m not sensing any sort of “conspiracy” at all. I just see Senators continuing to do what they’ve done in the past, which is pass legislation that expands the power of the federal government at the expense of the people they supposedly represent.

I think my post is pretty clear and well documented. There’s nothing “conspiratorial” about it. I’m just explaining what’s going on.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Whoa

The pattern you’ve noticed is richly repeated in dozens of places everyday thru the military/media/industrial/government conglomerate.

Look and you’ll see a complex weave of interplay which all appears to take place to distract people from everything important, making sure most people never realize what’s really going on.

Or at least that’s what my “conspiracy nut” friends tell me–you know how they are!


Dark Helmet (profile) says:


“So… if your Senator happens to be on the Senate Intelligence Committee now would be the time to call, email, tweet, fax, carrier pigeon, etc. to ask them whether they voted to let Americans know how the government is secretly interpreting its own laws”

Oh, sure. Let’s just go harrassing our elected officials. On behalf of the chamber of nothing, I request you redact this section of your post with sparkly sprinkles and unicorns, as it unduly requests the harrassment of our private public officials, who don’t want to hear from us and have no reason to listen to us.

For shame, sir. For shame….

Beta (profile) says:

how not to take the bait

[The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence must] explain “the problems posed by the reliance of government agencies and departments on interpretations of domestic surveillance authorities that are inconsistent with the understanding of such authorities by the public.”

Who could possibly vote against that?

I actually have a problem with giving undue recognition to this “interpretation” talk. As I recall, Bush Jr. was the one who first signed something into law while saying sotto voce “…we might interpret this a certain way…”, and the response was all a power-hungry president could wish: “What? Wait, what’s your interpretation? You have to tell us your interpretation. Please?…”

In my opinion the best response would have been from a judge or two (sotto voce): “In my court it’s my interpretation of the law that counts, not the defendant’s.”

maclizard (profile) says:

Letter template to send to your senator


I noticed that while our country is sliding closer to default, the Senate Intelligence Committee took the time to meet about, and vote on, an amendment to the PATRIOT Act that would extend the Federal Governments unnecessary ability to continue warrantless wiretapping practices.

I personally do not believe that spying on U.S. citizens provides any additional protection from harm and as a matter of fact I believe it does the exact opposite.

I understand that this vote has already taken place and for that reason this letter cannot change or affect the outcome in any way, however I would like to know how you voted? Were you a ‘yay’ or a ‘nay’?

I understand that you are a busy man, and as a whole I greatly respect the many things you have done for [REPRESENTED STATE], however I do need an answer to this letter quickly. If I have not received a reply stating what your vote was (yay or nay) by August 1st I will have to continue my current path with the assumption that your vote was ‘yay’ and the question I posed is not being answered to avoid public scrutiny.

I am not a fan of providing others with misinformation, but I will provide my stated assumption if I cannot obtain an answer soon, and if my assumption is wrong I will correct it as soon as it can be proven. Thank you for your time, God Bless.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

PLEASE help teach Florida what “democracy” means?

A representative democracy means that the elected representatives need to communicate with the electorate in order to gain and hold office. In the late 20th and early 21st century, that means the politicians need money –lots and lots of money– in order to buy TV airtime and get their message out. No money, no votes, no office.

Since the politicians really can’t talk to voters without spending money, it follows that citizens really can’t talk to legislators without spending money.

That’s the state of representative democracy in our republic today. I think most people in Florida already understand that pretty well.

Anonymous Coward says:

back to the Future

If you ever knew, the FISA laws were enacted because our government never stopped spying on us after WWII. Our “intelligence community” (there’s a hoot) got caught spying on MLK, the civil rights activists and anyone else they felt like keeping tabs on, in the ’60s. Congress enacted FISA and created a “special” court to adjudicate the lawfulness of domestic surveillance activities which the Bush league Congress stripped of its so-called power, when it was deemed to be too burdensome. (OMG! We have to fill out paperwork!?)

Do you really think this rider amounts to anything more than a pimple on the ass of democracy? What is this “public’s understanding” of which Mr. Udall speaks?

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