There's A Secret Reason Why The Government Has To Keep It Secret How Many Americans It's Spying On Without A Warrant

from the because...-terrorism dept

The folks over at the CATO Institute have put together a short five minute video on the rush by the federal government to renew the FISA Amendments Act, with no changes, which effectively has sanctioned warrantless wiretapping on millions of Americans. Even though the plain language of the bill suggests it only should be used on foreigners, it’s become clear that thanks to weasel language in the bill, and a “secret” interpretation by a secret court, the definition of “targeting” foreigners has been interpreted to mean any communication that might possibly somehow shed light on some sort of illegal activity that might possibly maybe involve foreigners sometimes in some manner. As such, it seems likely that the NSA, in particular, has used this bill and its secret interpretation to sweep up huge databases of information about Americans, even as most people (including many in Congress) believe the bill only is used to spy on foreigners.

The video is especially worth watching for the brief segment involving Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was the main supporter of extending these rules, responding to Senator Wyden’s amendment that sought to have the NSA provide an estimate — just an estimate — of how many Americans had their information swept up by the NSA in its dragnet. Feinstein insists that there’s a secret reason for why this information needs to be kept secret — and promises to wave the piece of paper around (if someone hands it to her) that contains the secret reason that she can’t tell us.

So, if you’re keeping track at home, we’ve got a bill with plain language that most people incorrectly believes means that it only involves collecting data on foreigners. But thanks to a secret interpretation, it’s almost certainly being used to collect tons of data on Americans, which is being kept secret. Furthermore, the NSA claims that it must keep secret whether or not it even has an estimate of how many Americans’ have had their data sucked up by this secret program because of, well, a secret reason.

Does that actually make anyone feel safer?

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Comments on “There's A Secret Reason Why The Government Has To Keep It Secret How Many Americans It's Spying On Without A Warrant”

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72 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

So that means we could interpret the Constitution secretly and say that it secretly allows we, the people, to extinguish NSA based on secret reasons, right? Since it seems laws can be secretly twisted I don’t think they’ll mind people secretly interpreting anti-drug laws exceptions so they can use their marijuana right? Because, hey, it’s secret but we can, right?

How come such absurds can come to pass?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well, the secret reason is that NSA suspects that a majority of the citizens of the U.S. would seek to undermine the government if they really knew what they were up to – so they need to keep track of all those people so that when they finally do declare martial law, they’ll know which houses to lock down first.

At what point does “terrorism” really just translate to “angry citizens”?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Hold the phone...

A court has to determine constitutionality, and for it to do that, a lawsuit must be filed. It’s unlikely such a lawsuit, if it could even be filed (who has standing?) would get far enough for a court to rule on constitutionality, because pretty much all the evidence that could be used is a secret.

The only way out of this that I can see is through congress, but it’s pretty clear that congress’ interest lie in the opposite direction.

Rob says:

Re: Re: Hold the phone...

And there’s your answer right there.

No one can sue, because no one has standing, because no one can show they are being spied on because who’s being spied on is a secret.

Therefore, there is only one number of Americans being spied on that would have to remain forever secret. If half of all of us were having our phones tapped, emails read, bank statements scrutinized, then no individual could sue, since he’s just as likely as not having his rights violated — you can’t go to court on a coin toss. The only number that would have to remain secret is . . . everybody. Because if everybody were affected, anybody could sue, and the courts would be forced to rule on constitutionality. Or explain how they could ignore it. Or not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Notorious B.I.G. Govt aka John Fenderson

I thought you believed in Big Govt because it was easier to control (by We the People) that corporations?
? As an aside, if we had to choose between those two Bigs (and I don’t think we do), then I choose Big Government. It’s easier to fix the government (who is us) than major corporations (whose behavior we have little to no say in.)?– John Fenderson on TechDirt

Your augment rings hollow as usual.

Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/renditions-continue-under-obama-despite-due-process-concerns/2013/01/01/4e593aa0-5102-11e2-984e-f1de82a7c98a_story.html

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Notorious B.I.G. Govt aka John Fenderson

Nope, you’ve completely and totally misunderstood what I’ve said — even though it’s plain even in that quote. (You ignored the “I don’t think we do) part.

That quote was me saying that if we must choose between two evils, I view Big Government to be the lesser evil compared to Big Corporation.

That’s a long way from saying that I believe in Big Government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Notorious B.I.G. Govt aka John Fenderson

As stated, your main point in that quote is ?It’s easier to fix the government (who is us) than major corporations?”.

I would like your particular solution to ?a “secret” interpretation by a secret court,? Govt problem, Notorious B.I.G. Govt.
How about the Rendition Problem (see Washington Post article above)
or the Assassination of US Citizens without Due Process problem?

?Crickets? from Notorious B.I.G. Govt aka John Fenderson

If it was a Corporation, the Govt could sue into oblivion or pass laws restricting said Corp, as it has done countless times. Govt is the Monopoly that is above the law.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Notorious B.I.G. Govt aka John Fenderson

As stated, your main point in that quote is ?It’s easier to fix the government (who is us) than major corporations?”.

Close. My main point is that government is the lesser of two evils in the context we were talking about. My reasoning was what you quote above.

I would like your particular solution to ?a “secret” interpretation by a secret court,?

I already gave it, and already bemoaned that it’s inadequate. The solution is pressure on congress to do the right thing.

If it was a Corporation, the Govt could sue into oblivion or pass laws restricting said Corp, as it has done countless times.

Countless times? Really? Please back that up.

If this were a corporation, we’d not even know as much about the problem as we know now. In any case, the solution you propose can be done whether the source of the misbehavior is corporate or government, so I’m not sure of your point.

Govt is the Monopoly that is above the law.

This is technically false. The government is defined by the law, not above it. That the government breaks the law is a problem, and that problem will persist and worsen for as long as we persist in thinking that “the government” is some entity other than “us”.

That way of thinking is what lets the government get away with its nonsense. If “the government” is some nebulous entity apart from us, then the result is the elimination of the very thing that is required for our government to work: the active involvement of the citizenry. If “the government” is some kind of powerful “other”, then the result is resignation and apathy on the part of the citizenry, which is precisely what allows government misbehavior to occur.

Dionaea (profile) says:

If someone would find that piece of paper...

“Feinstein insists that there’s a secret reason for why this information needs to be kept secret — and promises to wave the piece of paper around (if someone hands it to her) that contains the secret reason that she can’t tell us.”

Who else thinks that if someone found her that piece of paper the reason would turn out to be invisible?

sgt_doom (profile) says:

Cato ? ? ?

While I appreciate this blog post, this is pretty ancient stuff, and the fact that the Koch Bros.’ Cato Institute is finally publishing it, should warrant some wariness on everyone’s part.

Whether it’s the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, the Peterson Institute, et al. ad nauseum, nothing of truth will come forward from those skank tanks.

When Pew Charitable Trusts and Pew Research Center releases their psychometrically timed reports, the purpose is to divide and conquer, setting one gender, or age group, or ethnic group, etc., against another.

In this case, Cato is warning us about “the government” — rather specious given who actually owns and controls the government — in fact, an outrageous insult to the intelligence of any American with a decent complement of neurons!!!!!

The only three pristine and honest and real “think tanks” I am aware of (after many decades of volunteer political activism) are:

Demos
Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
Institute for Policy Studies

But those other skank tanks I mentioned should be taken with a few mega-tons of salt…..

sgt_doom (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cato ? ? ?

Ad hominem? NONSENSE!

The entire reason d’etre for their existence is flawed, for the same exact reason as pertains to the Heritage Foundation, AEI, the Peterson Institute, Brookings, Hoover Institute, etc., etc.; they are simply part of the propaganda network of the super-rich.

If you are truly that gullible, or that ignorant, consider yourself in the hopeless category…..or else simply another fraudster.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Cato ? ? ?

While I appreciate this blog post, this is pretty ancient stuff,

It happened last week, so, no. Not ancient.

the fact that the Koch Bros.’ Cato Institute is finally publishing it, should warrant some wariness on everyone’s part.

Uh, perhaps you’ve been under a rock for a while, but Cato and the Koch’s don’t like each other very much.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/think-tanked/post/koch-brothers-sue-cato-institute-president/2012/03/01/gIQAUoHMkR_blog.html

That fight happened because Cato has FAMOUSLY always been independent from any specific influence.

I’ve had plenty of interactions with Cato folks over the years on these issues and they’re good guys. I don’t agree with them on everything, but to suggest that they’re somehow disingenuous is, frankly, bullshit. Yes, there are a bunch of thinktanks that are nothing more than sock puppets, but that does not apply to Cato by any stretch of the imagination.

sgt_doom (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cato ? ? ?

Oh lordy, a Tucker Carlson fan (he became a fellow there after his pathetic show bombed, the usual MO for rightwing losers)!

Cato was funded by the Kochs and other hedge funds for specific reasons, spreading influencing, misinforming, etc., etc.

Yes indeedy they are most disingenuous as are the the skank tanks which are routinely given interviews by EVERY show of the American propaganda network (so-called “media”) reported as the news (same stooges appear on FoxFiction, NPR, CNN, CNBC, etc., ad nauseum).

Since the du Pont family first funded the American Enterprise Institue, these skank tanks have existed for one primary reason and one primary reason only, propaganda, and their explosion back in the late 1970s, as to both number and increase in funding, was for that specific purpose, along with the national consolidation of the news across the spectrum.

Senseless parsing as to this lawsuit or that Koch bros. bickering with one of their investments to the contrary, it is besides the point.

When Tucker Carlson appears at Cato, or Judy Miller receives a highly-paid position at the neocon Manhattan Institute after having to leave the NY Times for writing those planted “WMDs in Iraq” stories for her buddy, Dick Cheney, or the FBI agent in charge of the Warren Commission investigation (from the FBI’s old Division 5), who would go on to a highly lucrative position with the Hoover Institute at Stanford, the pattern is always the same.

Anyone who subscribes to anything from Heritage, AEI, Cato, Brookings, Hoover, the (David Rockefeller/Peter G. Peterson) Peterson Institute, is either sadly duped, or one career fraudster.

‘Nuff said……

BoloMKXXVIII (profile) says:

domestic spying

Secret? Are you kidding? They are hoovering up EVERY piece of electronic data they can get their hands on. Tax records, ALL e-mails, texts, Facebook accounts, license plate readers, credit card transactions, etc. If it is done electronically they have a copy of it. All information is sorted looking for patterns of terrorist activity. Not only is this highly illegal, it is only a matter of time before they start using the information for other purposes (if it hasn’t already started). This is not the government our forefathers fought and died to protect. The founding fathers are spinning in their graves.

The Real Michael says:

Re: domestic spying

Please, they’re not looking for terrorists with gathered intel; they’re creating a profiling database on every American, to be used later for a purpose that’s not made clear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they staged another false-flag attack and implemented martial law. Their ultimate end-goal seems to be to surrender our national sovereignity to the UN, dismantle our Constitution/Bill of Rights and create a slave-class system for the corporations to abuse and plunder for their own gain.

sgt_doom (profile) says:

Re: domestic spying

” looking for patterns of terrorist activity..”

Geez, history is not your strong suit, I’m guessing?

Check into the history of the creation of the American intelligence establishment back during and in the aftermath of World War II, please.

The Wall Streeters, both the super-rich and those working on their behalf (Rockefeller, Mellon, du Pont, Harriman, Morgans, etc., and their lackeys, Lovett, Wisner, Dulles brothers,etc.), created the US intelligence agencies, which they then would hop back and forth from, eventually privatizing the entire thing so today it is virtually seamless, with Carlyle Group’s Booz Allen, SAIC, Raytheon, ManTech Int’l, etc., at the controls.

Intel agencies exist for the Financial-Intelligence-Complex, the top tier of the plutocracy, for the sole purposes of financial intelligence for their profit, and general command and control of the populace.

We have been consistently, and constantly, told that Iran is just two years away from nuke capability, for the past 12 years?????

The first such person to leak this occupied a senior-level position at the Pentagon’s DIA, one Christopher Mellon (perhaps you’ve heard of the Mellon family? The largest depository bank in existence, the Bank of New York Mellon?) back around 2002.

Beginning to notice a pattern, one hopes…..

Michael (profile) says:

It’s no secret that the US government is in the business of keeping secrets. They have secretly kept secret interpretations of secrets secret from the common folk out of secret reasons for their secrecy for some secret amount of time.

Don’t let this secret amount of secrecy frighten you. It is being kept secret because having it all kept secret makes it far safer for everyone because we all know that secrecy is the same thing as security as long as the secret secrecy is kept totally secret.

Shhh…

vastrightwing (profile) says:

Not safe from our own government

Conspiracy theories are rampant because we don’t trust our government. We must explain things using half-truths and hidden evidence. Sure, there’s a good reason we don’t know about this program. We will never know because not enough people care to call anyone on it. Nope, this will be allowed to flourish and next year there be more secret programs added. So let’s enjoy what we have now, because tomorrow will only get worse.

Furthermore, do I feel safe from my own government? No. Because we don’t know who the government is responsible to. It’s not me. I don’t pay them enough to care about me. As long as citizens accept graft using taxpayer money (read Obama phone lady), us taxpayers don’t have a chance! We are not being represented. We pay taxes because we have to or we go to jail. But we are clearly not being represented. I can’t think of anyone who thinks this so called fiscal cliff deal is good. Do you think there will be any cuts? One? No. Because there is a history of flagrant abuse of money and this government only knows how to spend money, not save any.

sgt_doom (profile) says:

Re: Not safe from our own government

“Conspiracy theories are rampant…”

One should always be hyper-suspicious of anyone utilizing the US Chamber of Commerce (USCoC) talking point:

“conspiracy theory, conspiracy theory”

I recall when this first appear in common use, and it didn’t originate at the grass roots level, that’s for darn sure.

Just a bunch of pandering “on their payroll” newsies, like Judy Miller (now with Manhattan Institute, the neocon people), David Ignatius and others of their ilk.

No thanks, I’ll continue to think independently, so that when I heard the news conference from the Pentagon on 9/10/01, where the comptroller reported that his auditing team (DIA’s Financial Management staff) had uncovered an unaccounted for $2.3 trillion missing from DoD funds, and the very next morning when an airliner crashes dead-center into the Pentagon’s west wall, killing almost all of that auditing team (called for an emergency last-minute conference there that morning of 9/11) and severely injuring the rest, I will continue to cogitate on such items and continue to pay attention.

There are still quite a few Americans such as myself…..

dennis deems (profile) says:

"reason for why"

Feinstein insists that there’s a secret reason for why this information needs to be kept secret

Say “there’s a reason why” or “there’s a reason that”. Never say “there’s a reason for why”. The word “for” can’t take an independent clause. It can take a participle: “there’s a reason for keeping the information secret”, and it can take a noun: “there’s a reason for secrecy”, but the text that follows “for” can not be something that could stand as a sentence on its own.

Anonymous Coward says:

In 1987, Senator Feinstein was still Mayor Feinstein, of San Francisco and not an obvious recipient of military-service related letters. Perhaps the above commenter got the date wrong.

Feinstein became a US Senator in 1992. Basically, Senator Pete Wilson became governor of California in 1990 and had to give up his Senate seat. The guy Wilson appointed as the replacement Senator then lost a 1992 special election to Feinstein.

Since then, Feinstein has had the huge advantage of being the incumbent Democrat in a state that hasn’t elected a republican US Senator since 1988. She was re-elected in 2012, and turns 80 later this year.

She’ll be 85 if/when she runs for again re-election.

As an aside, Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco after the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

The Real Michael says:

Everyone who voted in favor of FISA did so in direct violation of the Constitution, showing utter contempt for the American people.

The irony must be lost on Sen. Feinstein that what she’s in favor of (domestic spying programs, gun confiscation, etc.) were also done by a man named Adolf Hitler, a man who round up millions of people, including her own race, sent them to concentration camps and made lampshades out of them. Along with other Senators like McCain, she’s helping to implement the very same measures which led to the Third Reich, right here on American soil.

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