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House To Vote On FISA Amendments Act, Despite Not Even Knowing How It's Being Interpreted

from the this-is-ridiculous dept

This is getting more ridiculous by the day. We’ve been covering how the NSA refuses to admit how many Americans are being spied upon via a secret interpretation of the FISA Amendments Act — and how Congress’ response is to pretend that as long as they stick their head in the sand, the NSA couldn’t possibly be abusing the law. Rep. Dan Lungren literally said that he sees no reason to be worried because he hasn’t seen any evidence that it’s being used to spy on Americans. But that’s only true if you are being willfully blind. The NSA has refused basic requests to reveal non-confidential info, ridiculously claiming it would violate the privacy of Americans to admit how many Americans were being spied upon. Meanwhile, Julian Sanchez’s attempt to reveal some info via a Freedom of Information Act request is being stonewalled by the feds.

And yet Congress still wants to move forward. The House is planning to vote on extending the FISA Amendments Act in the next day or two, despite the fact that the vast majority of elected officials do not have the information on how the law is being interpreted and those who are in the know have hinted very, very, very strongly that it is being widely abused. Now, if Congress actually represented the public, it might try to stop this process and ask for some of the details. Instead, it seems to be focused on just re-upping support for this tool that has more or less enabled domestic spying on Americans.

After four years, you’d hope that some basic information or parameters of such a massive spying program would be divulged to the public, or at least your rank-and-file member of Congress, but they haven’t.  Only a small handful of members have either personally attended classified briefings or have staff with high enough clearances to attend for them.  Sen. Ron Wyden—who has been on the Senate Intelligence Committee for years—has even been stonewalled by the Obama administration for a year and a half in his attempts to learn basic information about the program, such as the number of Americans who have had their communications intercepted under the FAA. 

Yet the House ambles on, ready to rubber stamp another five years of expansive surveillance that can pick up American communications without meaningful judicial oversight and without probable cause or any finding of wrongdoing.  Instead of blind faith in the executive branch, every member of the House should demand that the administration publicly disclose the following before proceeding with reauthorization:

  • Copies of FISA court opinions interpreting our Fourth Amendment rights under the FAA, with redactions to protect sensitive information (the Department of Justice can write summaries of law if necessary);
  • A rough estimate of how many Americans are surveilled under the FAA every year;
  • A description of the rules that govern how American information picked up by FAA surveillance is protected.
  • Can you believe that 435 members of Congress who have sworn to uphold the Constitution are about to vote on a sweeping intelligence gathering law without this basic information?

    If you find this worrisome (and you should), the ACLU has set up an an action page to contact your elected officials and ask them to do their jobs and find out the details before just rubber-stamping the extension of the FISA Amendments Act.

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    Comments on “House To Vote On FISA Amendments Act, Despite Not Even Knowing How It's Being Interpreted”

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    Anonymous Coward says:

    Obama?s FISA Shift

    ?Obama?s FISA Shift?, ABC, Jul 9, 2008

    “To be clear,” Sen. Barack Obama. D-Illinois, spox Bill Burton told Talking Points Memo last October about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, “Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.”

    Reaffirmed Obama?s Senate office in December: ?Senator Obama unequivocally opposes giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies and has cosponsored Senator Dodd?s efforts to remove that provision from the FISA bill. Granting such immunity undermines the constitutional protections Americans trust the Congress to protect. Senator Obama supports a filibuster of this bill, and strongly urges others to do the same?Senator Obama will not be among those voting to end the filibuster.?


    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Obama?s FISA Shift

    September 10, 2012


    H.R. 5949 ? FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012
    (Rep. Smith, R-TX, and 5 cosponsors)

    The Administration strongly supports H.R. 5949. The bill would reauthorize Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which expires at the end of this year. Title VII of FISA allows the Intelligence Community to collect vital foreign intelligence information about international terrorists and other important targets overseas, while providing protection for the civil liberties and privacy of Americans. Intelligence collection under Title VII has produced and continues to produce significant information that is vital to defend the Nation against international terrorism and other threats. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure the continued availability of this critical intelligence capability.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Toss 'em

    I can confirm that my Representative is “safe”.

    Barack Obama: ?My Position On FISA?, July 3, 2008

    I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to those of you who oppose my decision to support the FISA compromise.

    This was not an easy call for me. I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn’t have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush’s abuse of executive power. It grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies […blah blah blah…]

    […blah-blah… …blah-blah… …blah-blah…]

    I learned long ago, when working as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago, that when citizens join their voices together, they can hold their leaders accountable. I’m not exempt from that. I’m certainly not perfect, and expect to be held accountable too. I cannot promise to agree with you on every issue. But I do promise to listen to your concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn your ongoing support to change the country. That is why we have built the largest grassroots campaign in the history of presidential politics, and that is the kind of White House that I intend to run as president of the United States — a White House that takes the Constitution seriously, conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.

    Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. […blah blah blah…]


    (Emphasis added.)

    sehlat (profile) says:

    Ahhh, how illusions continue to be believed.

    This is the congress where La Pelosi said, publicly, “We’ll find out what’s in the bill after we pass it.”

    Are there really people who believe congressmen won’t vote down a bill they’ve clearly been told to vote for by the people who are tapping their communications and can ruin their lives with a single leak.

    Mark my words, there are certainly congressmen who know the capabilities are already being abused because they’ve been subjected to quiet little chats with people calling themselves “constitutents.”

    Ninja (profile) says:

    Re: Ahhh, how illusions continue to be believed.

    This is the congress where La Pelosi said, publicly, “We’ll find out what’s in the bill after we pass it.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong but Congress is there precisely to read and discuss anything that has any link to any law. If, by any chance, they are analyzing the stuff AFTER they pass wouldn’t it defeat the purpose of its very existence? Shall we fire all Congressmen and their respective employees since they are apparently not needed anymore?

    Rapnel (profile) says:

    Strong on Terrorism

    These guys just want a job. They can’t risk being labeled as weak on terrorism.

    If you were to ask me well I would say that the way to be strong on terrorism is to be a strong upholder of the Constitution. It’s quite simple really. If you harm the people of the US we will kill you, dead. That’s a strong stance against terror in my opinion. Hell, it could even go both ways if you wanted to peel the onion.

    Our elected officials, including the CIC, though they are elected they are clearly owned by those heady folks at Justice and Intel.

    Something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. To make matters worse there is no way out.

    They can’t tell you because it’s bad. They’re protecting themselves in the name of protecting America – by grabbing balls and telephone calls. Secrets destroy.

    The Curtain is Iron.

    Homeland Security? Are you fucking kidding me with that? Their mission is to secure the homeland right? I’m betting that means protection from within first and foremost.

    I’m also betting that we haven’t seen anything yet (pun semi-intended).

    So strap in, strap on, grab a seat under the Curtain or grab a dick – your choice.

    Josef Anvil (profile) says:

    War on Terror - Lost

    Thank you G W Bush, for terrorizing Congress.

    Now anyone in congress who votes against any bill that is seen as “national security”, will be labelled as soft on terror and risk their job.

    They should have just slapped national security in SOPA and it would have sailed through. It worked for the port security bill that ended online gambling in the US.

    Jasmine Charter (user link) says:

    And this is surprising how?

    And this is surprising. These are the same people who said “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it…”

    Our politicians are a disgrace. They pass legislation they haven’t read… or worse… know if bad and either pass it to “go with the party” or pass it because their pockets are being lined by special interest (cough BIG MEDIA cough)

    art guerrilla (profile) says:

    GUMMINTS LIE ! ! !

    dog damn, how many decades of being a goody-two-shoes did i waste believing gummint LIES ? ? ?

    the more perspicacious kampers here realize this, but for the remaining propaganda-victims in the studio audience:
    the gummint LIES…
    (yes, ‘our’ (sic) best and brightest, the cream of the crop, the masters of the universe, they are LIARS, if not sociopaths…)
    they LIE to our enemies, to our friends, to us citizens, to the ‘justice’ dept, to the media, to EVERYBODY; they LIE…

    they lie for a lot of reasons (none of which are ‘good’ reasons, and none of which serves the interests of us 99%),
    but the main reason is: because they *can* (and NO ONE with power/authority can/does call them out on it in any significant fashion)…

    not only that, but the -i’m not kidding here- absolutely CHILDISH manner in which they lie is ASTOUNDING: they will technically parse, deliberately obfuscate, and flat out deny stuff you would not let your two-year old get away with…
    …and yet, they do get away with it ! ! !

    one tiny example: back in the day when ‘our’ (sic) kongresskritters *pretended* to have at least *some* form of oversight, j edgar (deep closet) hoover would have his field agents pull all the illegal wiretaps he had going, skip off to kongress and tell them they had zero wiretaps, then go back and have the agents wiretap all over again…
    that was called being ‘truthful’…

    they play word games like this ALL THE TIME; ‘your’ (sic) gummint is NOT to be trusted…

    which is why the wally’s, bob’s, and below-average joe’s ARE tools and fools: they believe WHATEVER bullshit the gummint throws at them… (though they would pretend otherwise)

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: GUMMINTS LIE ! ! !

    wally’s, bob’s, and below-average joe’s ARE tools

    Too true. They’ve been invited to the big table for a specific purpose, and not for their 0.01% aggregate contribution to the GDP or their killer blow connections. Tools for censorship and trickling up yet more wealth. Sad they won’t know it until the guy at the head of the table one day looks up and says “Who the hell are you? Get out!”

    Michael says:

    Re: Re:


    Right now we’ve got the NSA spying on us, the FBI profiling us, the TSA ‘thought police’ groping people, a huge surveillance system in place, politicians ignoring the will of the people, Wall Street speculation and gambling with our jobs, widespread outsourcing, banks handing out fraudulent loans, a mortgage crisis, over 2 million people in prison, etc.

    People say things like “I’ll refuse to fly,” as if that magically solves the problem. What happens when the TSA decides to set up camp at every train station, bus terminal and highway in the country? Are you going to say “I’ll refuse to go anywhere” and be a prisoner in your own home? Then they’ll decide that they can just barge in your house and rummage through all your stuff. What are you going to do when you have no rights?

    Pixelation says:

    Response from Feinstein

    Dear (Pixelation),

    I received your letter and want to thank you for expressing your concerns about government surveillance authorities. I recognize that this is an important issue to you, and I welcome the opportunity to share my points of view.

    I believe that law enforcement and the intelligence community need the authorities in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to collect intelligence information necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and protect our nation. Under FISA, surveillance authorities are subject to judicial oversight from the FISA Court, require approvals from senior officials in the Executive Branch, and are subject to full oversight by the Department of Justice and the Congress.

    As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can assure you that oversight of the government’s surveillance authorities is a major priority for these Committees.

    I supported the FISA Extensions Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-3), which Congress passed on May 26, 2011 to extend three provisions in FISA?known as “roving wiretaps,” “lone wolf,” and “business records” provisions?until June 1, 2015. I believe these are important counterterrorism tools, and that the expiration of these authorities would reduce our security.

    During the debate, I pledged, as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to hold hearings in that Committee on the uses of these three provisions and other FISA authorities, and those hearings have taken place. I intend to hold further hearings this year to continue considering FISA authorities and whether they should be extended.

    Be assured that I recognize your concerns about the transparency and oversight of the Government’s surveillance authorities. Like you, I strongly believe in transparent government, and protecting Americans’ personal privacy rights. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the amount of transparency possible when discussing classified intelligence programs, which is why I believe that congressional oversight of these matters is vital.

    Again, thank you for your letter. Hearing your perspectives is very helpful to me. Should you have any additional comments or questions, please contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841.

    Sincerely yours,

    Dianne Feinstein
    United States Senator

    Shahid Buttar (user link) says:

    FISA is an abomination

    The non-debate over FISA is appalling. Even though much of it remains shrouded in secrecy, we do know a few things about the NSA?s warrantless spying program authorized by FISA.

    We know that it began illegally, without any authorization by Congress and in clear violation of the FISA law crafted by Congress in the 1970s to stop our government from spying on Americans.

    We know it is so vast and unchecked that, nearly ten years ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to authorize it, even despite coercion from the Bush White House.

    We know that an architect of the program, alarmed at how his work was co-opted to abuse the rights of Americans, blew a whistle about fraud and waste, only to face prosecution by the Obama Administration for espionage?until a federal court ultimately told the government to stop chasing a loyal servant of the American people.

    We know that the NSA has violated even this incredibly permissive law, abusing its own powers and the rights of untold numbers of Americans. Our government has admitted to that much, without offering any way to know how widespread those violations have been ? or remain.

    We know that the executive branch currently interprets parts of other surveillance laws in secret, allowing government activities even beyond the intentions of their authors.

    We know that congressional Democrats?including then Senator Obama?joined their Republican colleagues in 2008 to approve FISA, even while both parties paid lip service about defending constitutional values in Washington….

    We know that, despite Washington?s wrangling over the budget crisis, the NSA has never justified its massive costs to the American people. In fact, Congress knows neither what the program costs, nor when the NSA?s program has actually helped national security, let alone whether those costs are justified!

    We know that FISA has enabled the most pervasive state surveillance system ever known to humankind. The only settings in which powers like it have ever existed are dystopian science fiction novels.

    Read more at http://www.constitutioncampaign.org/blog/?p=9805

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