Wyden & Udall Block FISA Amendments Act Until US Admits How Many Americans Are Being Spied On

from the would-be-useful-to-know... dept

We’ve been covering the fight that Senators Ron Wyden and Marc Udall have been in with the administration (and other members of Congress) concerning the FISA Amendments Act, in which the two Senators seem to be suggesting that a loophole in the law has allowed the feds to collect massive amounts of data on Americans without getting warrants. While they are unable to make the details clear, it sure sounds like the feds may be twisting the language of the Act, which was supposed to clear away some obstacles to collecting data on foreigners, such that they’re collecting massive amounts of data on Americans. When Wyden & Udall asked officials just how many Americans had their data collected via this program, they were told it was impossible to answer that question. That alone should raise serious alarm bells.

Wyden and Udall have now put a hold on the new FISA Amendment Acts extension effort, saying that they don’t want to hold back the important parts of the law, but are very worried about how it’s being abused to spy on tons of Americans, despite that being against the clear intent. It does seem like a fair question to ask: just how many Americans have had their data surveilled under the law?

We are particularly concerned about a loophole in the law that could allow the government to effectively conduct warrantless searches for Americans’ communications. Since we do not know how many Americans have had their phone calls and emails collected under this law, we believe that it is particularly important to have strong rules in place to protect the privacy of these Americans. We are disappointed that this bill does not attempt to add these protections.

The central provision in the FISA Amendments Act added a new section 702 to the original FISA statute. Section 702 was designed to give the government new authorities to collect the communications of people who are reasonably believed to be foreigners outside the United States. Because section 702 does not involve obtaining individual warrants, it contains language specifically intended to limit the government’s ability to use these new authorities to deliberately spy on American citizens.

We have concluded, however, that section 702 currently contains a loophole that could be used to circumvent traditional warrant protections and search for the communications of a potentially large number of American citizens. We have sought repeatedly to gain an understanding of how many Americans have had their phone calls or emails collected and reviewed under this statute, but we have not been able to obtain even a rough estimate of this number.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence told the two of us in July 2011 that “it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed” under the FISA Amendments Act. We are prepared to accept that it might be difficult to come up with an exact count of this number, but it is hard for us to believe that it is impossible to even estimate it.

It really is incredible just how much it seems that the federal government is doing everything it can to avoid the basic checks and balances that are supposed to keep excessive behavior in check. Considering the bill is supposed to protect, not expose, Americans, it’s scary that the government refuses to even estimate how many Americans are spied upon in this manner. Given the continued efforts and statements of Wyden and Udall, it seems evident that they’re aware that the feds are treating this law in a very different manner than the public believes — but they’re held back from saying anything specific, due to much of the info being classified.

Even worse, however, is the attitude of Senate colleagues, who seem ready to push this extension through no matter what, so they can declare that they’re helping to keep the country secure, without even bothering to understand the massive loopholes and likely abuse by the feds under the law. From what’s been said, it appears that many in the Senate seem to take it at face value that the bill is only used for collecting info on foreigners, and thus they’re voting from a position of ignorance. At the very least, they should be willing to speak out and demand the same data that Wyden and Udall are asking for: an estimate as to how many Americans have had data exposed under this bill. If it really is supposed to only focus on foreigners, but millions of Americans have had their info accessed, that seems like a problem that should be addressed, rather than one that should be swept under the rug, as most in the Senate seem interested in doing.

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Comments on “Wyden & Udall Block FISA Amendments Act Until US Admits How Many Americans Are Being Spied On”

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54 Comments
Rekrul says:

It really is incredible just how much it seems that the federal government is doing everything it can to avoid the basic checks and balances that are supposed to keep excessive behavior in check.

If it really is supposed to only focus on foreigners, but millions of Americans have had their info accessed, that seems like a problem that should be addressed, rather than one that should be swept under the rug, as most in the Senate seem interested in doing.

You keep using the word “seems” as if there was any question…

That One Guy (profile) says:

You keep using that word. I do not think it it means what you think it means.

What we have here is more evidence that the government seems to have forgotten a very basic idea:

Laws exist to protect and serve the citizenry.

A law may help the government out, but it should do so only in a way that enables them to protect and serve the public better.

Sadly they seem to have completely forgotten this, and instead look at it the other way around, where a law is first and foremost supposed to help the government, and if it helps the citizens as well that’s just an added bonus.

TasMot (profile) says:

Re:

Because if for no other reason than it is garuanteed by the constitution that formed this country to protect its citizens from big bad government. You know, like when we got rid of England? And, like the one we have now. You remember, freedom from unreasonable searches, like the ones without being charged with a crime. Yeah, those freedoms that were garuanteed by our constitution. Unfortunately, these basic human rights were only extended to our citizens, and based on statements by Homeland Security, only if you are actually IN the country (reference to the right to sieze and search ANY and ALL property at the border without the constitutional protections we are supposed to have).

TasMot (profile) says:

Why are most of them Politicians

Why aren’t most or even more of the Senators asking these questions? I have the answer to that. They are politicians to be politicians. After the elections where they seem interested in the consittuency, they are only interested in being politicians. The people they are supposed to protect and serve are distant memories, at least until another election season rolls around. Then, you have their ear and are their best buddy once again, after all, must have that vote to get back on the gravy train.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

A few good men

I am happy to know that there are a least a handful of good people in Congress. While most of them seem to just be corporate lackeys who don’t care about those who actually vote them in, there are at least a select few who still represent the people.

Now if only we had more options and not a 2 party broken system, we could have representatives like this from all over the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Really, Where in the constitution does it say that?
Keep looking, I’ll wait.

On the other hand, our declaration of independence said something like “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”

Note that it did not say “all citizens are created equal”

MonkeyFracasJr (profile) says:

If the law was written specifically to define how the gov’t can “spy” on “foreigners” shouldn’t the first sentence read:

“IT IS UNLAWFUL TO PERFORM ANY INFORMATION OR DATA GATHERING ON ANY UNITED STATES CITIZEN WITHOUT A COURT APPROVED WARRANT FOR SUCH ACTIONS. NO STATEMENT OR WORDING IN THIS DOCUMENT MAY BE USED OR INTERPRETED TO BE USED TO CIRCUMVENT CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF US CITIZENS.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

That’s not really true. Mike does a whole bunch of stuff that he never talks about online, and seems shy to even bring up. He appears to “consult” for a number of organizations, but doesn’t want to mention them.

He really needs to declare himself as a lobbyists, and perhaps open his PAC properly. The shadow stuff is pretty weird, if you ask me – and certainly enough to merit a little attention from the 3 letter agencies.

alanbleiweiss (profile) says:

Re:

okay I’m confused. You probably assumed that with your challenge that I go re-read the constitution. Except nowhere in your snark do you explain what about my claim that the government treating us like criminals was false re: the constitution.

Because last time I checked, the Declaration of Independence didn’t discuss citizens rights regarding rights to a speedy trial, the right to bear arms, or a host of other CONSTITUTIONAL rights we’ve been afforded and which now are trampled on regularly. And of course, it’s not the Declaration of Independence that protects us as US citizens and thus separates our “rights” from those of foreign citizens.

If I’m mistaken, because somehow my brain was swapped with a 5 year olds, please. Enlighten me.

And then try to tell me how the Declaration was the document that affords you and I to rant at each other. ๐Ÿ™‚

alanbleiweiss (profile) says:

Re:

yeah well I would suggest that if one takes the time to consider how much Mike reads on these subjects, that it wouldn’t be difficult for some gov weenie to bring charges of espionage against him on the premise that “given how knowledgeable he is, surely he must be getting access to a bunch of secret stuff beyond what he “openly” talks about. Yeah – he probably has secret cabal meetings with other commies, so we should throw him in jail for life”…

Because you know. That’s our government at work. Making shit up about things they’re scared of. ๐Ÿ™‚

But since just my suggesting such a concept could actually give them an idea, I won’t say it here. So pretend this comment doesn’t exist. ๐Ÿ™‚

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re:

It is rather telling of you that when a politician actually represents the people, and everybody loves them for it, then you come in and call it grandstanding.

Yet when a politician is actively working to destroy what America was supposed to stand for, then you come in defending their every move like it was some sort of godsend.

Very telling indeed. Pretty easy to see why you only ever post as an AC.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re:

Yes, you are correct, but you left out the “loophole” that they are using:

IT IS UNLAWFUL TO PERFORM ANY INFORMATION OR DATA GATHERING ON ANY UNITED STATES CITIZEN WITHOUT A COURT APPROVED WARRANT FOR SUCH ACTIONS. NO STATEMENT OR WORDING IN THIS DOCUMENT MAY BE USED OR INTERPRETED TO BE USED TO CIRCUMVENT CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF US CITIZENS*.

*unless we really, really want to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

It’s easy to “represent the people” by taking their side. In the past, it was called “bread and circuses”. More recently, it’s been called “network TV”.

Basically, playing the populist opposition character is an easy one. You rail against anything that makes the people actually be responsible, you support everything that gives them what they want for free, and you stand back and soak up all the support.

Wyden is just at this point playing the populist Avatar. It’s perhaps his best chance at get re-elected, which is what every congress critter aims to accomplish.

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