Ron Wyden Puts Hold On FISA Amendments Act; Wants Answers To How Many Americans Have Been Spied On

from the good-for-him dept

Last week, we noted that as everyone was focused on the debt ceiling, some in the Senate Intelligence Committee saw it as an opportunity to rush through an extension for the FISA Amendment Act, which was originally passed to “legalize” the government’s warrantless wiretapping program (already ongoing) with retroactive immunity. Of course, when that was passed, it was made clear that the intent was solely to use it to conduct surveillance on people outside of the US. However, as Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have made clear, intelligence officials have been using a very questionable “hybrid theory” to use the FAA and the Patriot Act to conduct widespread surveillance of Americans, most likely in the form of collecting tons of geolocation data from mobile phone operators.

There was no reason to approve the FAA extension last week, since it doesn’t expire until next year. Even worse, the vote for the whole thing was in a “closed” session, not for classified reasons, since votes come out eventually, but basically to avoid public scrutiny. Wyden and Udall introduced an amendment requiring intelligence officials to explain the “problems” associated with secret interpretations of such laws that disagree with how most (including those in Congress) believe the law is intended for use. Since the vote was closed, there was no official notice on how it turned out, though we’d heard rumors that it was approved.

Senator Wyden has now come out and said that it was, in fact, approved, and his and Udall’s Amendment was voted down 7-8. Because of this, Wyden is putting a hold on the FISA Amendments Act extension, and is pushing for a simple answer to the question that multiple intelligence officials said “is not reasonably possible” to answer: how many Americans are being spied under this Act, which was clearly intended to cover surveillance of foreigners.

As most of my colleagues remember, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008 in an effort to give the government new authorities to conduct surveillance of foreigners outside the United States. The bill contained an expiration date of December 2012, and the purpose of this expiration date was to force members of Congress to come back in a few years and examine whether these new authorities had been interpreted and implemented as intended.

I believe that Congress has not yet adequately examined this issue, and that there are important questions that need to be answered before the FISA Amendments Act is given a long-term extension.

The central section of the FISA Amendments Act, the part that is now section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act itself, specifically stated that it was intended to address foreigners outside the United States, and it even required the Attorney General to develop procedures designed to make sure that any individuals targeted with this new authority are believed to be outside the United States. So one of the central questions that Congress needs to ask is, are these procedures working as intended? Are they keeping the communications of law-abiding Americans from being swept up under this authority that was designed to apply to foreigners?

Wyden also notes that he has no intention of accepting the “not reasonably possible” language from the feds in response to his questions about how many Americans were spied on.

Hopefully this puts more pressure on the federal government to say how they’ve (mis)interpreted the law to collect vast aggregate data on Americans, abusing a law that was clearly designed for the sake of monitoring foreign communications.

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Comments on “Ron Wyden Puts Hold On FISA Amendments Act; Wants Answers To How Many Americans Have Been Spied On”

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trish says:


u know, i always thought usa was ‘land of the free’ til reading your blog. It seems your problems may require a more ‘arab spring’ type of approach, eventually. This is a democracy, people. You want to have secrets from your population? Conduct closed meetings where the citizens (who give up their governance of themselves so they can work for a living, and trust you to do it right) cannot even have a say, cannot EVEN see and hear what you’re doing to THEIR country? Well to f’n bad punk. srsly makes me mad to see that ‘democracy’ is an illusion. And then we think we’re better than China. BS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ya

… a more ‘arab spring’ type of approach, eventually.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: ya

What scares me is the thought that were we to have a modern day equivalent of the First/Second Continental Congress or Constitutional Convention, the same people in power now might show up. That goes from the Federal level all the way down to the local level. That has shaped how I vote dramatically. If I’m going to elect somebody who might have a hand in shaping the next constitution, I’m certainly not going to vote for somebody just because they’re the lesser of two evils.

ricebowl (profile) says:

Re: Re: ya

It’s interesting that you quote those words, but omit their opening, and to my mind far more important, sentences. Please, allow me:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

keniri says:

trish, I would very highly recommend watching a movie called “Enemy of the State”. The movie, while it’s typical Hollywood fanfare, raises the very same questions that Senator Wyden has asked about how many Americans are being spied upon.

The movie stars Will Smith and Gene Hackman and it deals with the huge ramifications of what happens when the government is given unlimited power to spy on its own people.

While I enjoyed the movie, it also frightened me that our government could be given such unlimited power to spy on its own people. They need to use this technology to prevent threats to our country, to track terrorists or even subversive groups like renegade militia and survivalist groups.

The problem is that once government, those in power, get what they want, 99% of the time they abuse that power.

shane says:

Re: Americans?

You say renegade militia and survivalist groups are ok to be monitored? actually you say they should be monitored…arnt they Americans too? Have you read the Declaration of Independence lately? We being “Americans” have a DUTY to keep OUR government in check and if they start to oppress to public, to SHUT THEM DOWN OURSELVES!! Dont you know that this country was saved by Militias when the redcoats came to smash it all sir,have seen one too many movies and obviously beleive everything you read and hear..

Anonymous Coward says:

“not reasonably possible” is probably correct. here is why implement an enormous number of wire taps, aided by multiple complicit tel com companies all across the world.
parse each conversation with voice recognition tech and gps coordinates into a set of key words and physical locations, feed all that information into data mining software that will spider for specif combination of key words such as bomb, car, pentagon, democrat, 2012 election. so its “not reasonably possible” because they need to know the nationality before the data gets entered. i hope I’m wrong.
but i don’t think so. bottom line is they are spending billions to catch dumb people for a minuscule chance in a slip up by the truly dangerous one’s

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Re: I know..

Guns and ammo might work, but it’s probably better to invest in something that can be reused, where you can fairly easily make new ammo. Me, I’m going for a crossbow. 😉

Food and water is probably not worth the time, what you want is a replenishing source of food and water, i.e. a farm.

Gold and silver is definitely not worth it. When the going gets tough, people will realize that gold and silver can’t be eaten, and they make for crappy ammo (except for against werewolfs of course).

Have I thought about this way too much? Yes, I have.

Someantimalwareguy says:

Re: Re: I know..

Gold and silver is definitely not worth it. When the going gets tough, people will realize that gold and silver can’t be eaten, and they make for crappy ammo (except for against werewolfs of course).

Barter would be the coin of the realm should there be a total collapse of the economy where money was both useless and worthless.

Having supplies of needed comodities like sugar, salt, coffee, etc could be used to trade for things you do not have, but need for whatever reason. The only thing Gold and Silver would be useful for would be as door stops with sufficient weight…

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re exactly right.

He learns that the Intelligence chief is spying on Americans privately, and is asking questions, (you know, that oversight power of Senators and Congressmen?) inquiring how much the FBI is abusing legislation for their own personal gain.

That must be a great tin hat to have. A senator acts as if they have morals and ethics and we have some AC deciding to take down a Senator for not taking money on the backside.

Bra-friggin- vo!

*slow clap*

Anonymous Tin Hat says:

Tinfoil hat, tinfoil hat

The funny thing is that I remember this (actual conspiracies being shouted down) happening with the Iran-Contra Affair… with Microsoft’s code pollution… with Oracle’s business dealings… with the 1996 Telcom Act… with at least 50 things off the top of my head I can recall.

“No, there’s no conspiracies anywhere; anyone who thinks so must be nuts.” Great way to shut off all examination, conjecture, thought or debate. “It can’t happen here.” It did; the foundation of this country is based on a conspiracy, no matter how you look at it.

There should be no conjecture in several things happening simultaneously?

1. The push yet again for “real names” and “accountability” and “responsibility” (ie tracking) on the nets – happen to remember at least 3 attempts at this, including RealID, in the last 20 yrs. Google a big name in this, right behind Facebook.

2. Google being under anti-trust pressure with its sore business and profit source at risk.

3. The ISP Snoop Bill (PCICA)

4. The little action detailed above, which Sen. Wyden is attempting to drag into the light.

– Bunch of other current and just-past events I am too bored to enumerate here and are probably known to most of this readership.

So, although I am trained to troubleshoot a system, juggling a ton of possibility-vectors in my head while tracking a problem, sorting through system models, behavioural models and pattern-matching, I suddenly am being a “tin-foil hat” when patterns emerge that suggest at least some attention and scrutiny to determine if they are relevant, their hypotheses test out and they make sense in light of all the other data?

I’m supposed to pretend that none of that skill could possibly apply to anything outside a computer network or system? That I feel it relevant to at least examine the patterns and data?

Yeah, right. I’ll keep my tin-foil hat, if you please, rather than become some opinion-spouting asshat with closed eyes who insists that “there are no conspiracies anywhere” and who obviously forgot his high-school history classes*

*can start with JP Morgan, William Randolph Hearst, Oliver North, Nigerian Yellowcake…

Anonymous Coward says:



Arm yourselves people – a revolution is inevitable.

Too long have the people in this country been sheltered and led to believe their beloved government holds their best interests in mind.

Eventually, they will go too far, and the people in this country will rise up to remind them again exactly whose country it is.

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