Senators Wyden And Udall: US Gov't Still Not Being Honest About NSA Surveillance

from the but-of-course dept

Even while NSA defenders are bitching about Senator Ron Wyden hinting strongly about the NSA and the DOJ abusing various interpretations of the law to spy on Americans with the bulk collection of data, it seems that neither Wyden nor Senator Mark Udall are planning to back down. Specifically, Wyden noted (as explained below) that the feds admitted to serious violations of the law — but have done so in classified letters, rather than publicly. He’s hoping to change that.

Wyden told Politco that “U.S. intelligence agencies’ violations of court orders on surveillance of Americans is worse than the government is letting on.” Julian Sanchez, over at Cato, notes that Wyden seems to be all but screaming about how the feds have also collected location data, despite carefully worded denials. As Sanchez notes, Wyden keeps going back to questions concerning location tracking via mobile phones — and it would seem odd to do that if he didn’t know something. After all, the revealed info so far hasn’t included location data:

Wyden’s constant references to location tracking in this context would be nothing short of bizarre unless he had reason to believe that the governments assurances on this score are misleading, and that there either is or has been some program involving bulk collection of phone records. Wyden, of course, would know full well whether there is or is not any such program via his role on the Intelligence Committee—and his focus on location tracking over the activities we know NSA is engaged in, such as monitroing of Internet communications and bulk collection of phone records, would be an inexplicable obsession if he knew that no such program existed.

From what Wyden said today, it sounds like the NSA potentially did collect location data, but may not be doing so currently “under these programs.”

Both Udall and Wyden took to the Senate floor this evening to argue further that the government is not being fully honest in what it does, and that it’s a violation of our privacy. They’re now introducing legislation to limit these government surveillance programs (from the Patriot Act Section 215 and the FISA Amendments Act Section 702). Specifically, the proposal is for the government to be able to request that the telcos do a search if they can show a good reason for a search — rather than collecting all data and searching them later.

Udall pointed out that defenders of these programs are carefully choosing their words and conflating various programs, picking and choosing to mislead the American public. For example, he points out that the claims that the bulk phone records program was instrumental in stopping 54 “terrorism” cases are not accurate, and that, as an Intelligence Committee member, he’s yet to see any evidence that the bulk collection of phone records has been necessary to stop any terrorism event. Rather he hints strongly that defenders of the program are using other programs and using misleading statements to pretend the bulk records were necessary. As he points out, the bulk records may have made things more convenient, but that’s no excuse for violating the privacy of millions (or hundreds of millions) of innocent Americans.

Wyden’s speech goes into similar territory about the complete lack of evidence that the bulk data collection was necessary in any terrorist cases, but then goes further, saying that the “classified” documents that James Clapper sent last week show that the NSA’s admitted violations of the Patriot Act show that their actions are significantly worse than has already been disclosed. He urged other Senators to go read the classified documents that Clapper sent, noting that when they read them, they’ll realize just how badly the intelligence community has violated the law. He says that he’s going to push to have more info about those abuses disclosed and declassified. Later, he points out that the rules of the Intelligence Committee mean he’s not allowed to “tap out warnings in Morse code” and that limits his ability to play the watchdog role he’s supposed to play on that Committee. He also said that their public statements “significantly exaggerated” the importance of bulk data programs — and uses the example of the bulk data collection of emails, which was shut down in 2011 after the surveillance community failed to prove to the Intelligence Committee that the program was actually useful. He notes that if the government can’t show that the program increases either security or liberty, it seems like it should be ended. Instead, he notes that we can make changes to the intelligence community that let us have security and liberty without compromising either.

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Comments on “Senators Wyden And Udall: US Gov't Still Not Being Honest About NSA Surveillance”

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Beech says:

A couple quick impressions.

1)”Later, he points out that the rules of the Intelligence Committee mean he’s not allowed to “tap out warnings in Morse code” and that limits his ability to play the watchdog role he’s supposed to play on that Committee.”

This is complete bullshit. How the hell do we have congress “overseeing” anything, if the party they are in charge of can completely gag them? THIS is the huge problem. You have a man in charge of stopping these abuses, but he is legally bound from disclosing what the abuses are. How can this kind of thing be allowed to happen?! Congress needs a way to declassify things, a way to actually override the executive branch on clear breaches like this.

2) “they’ll realize just how badly the intelligence community has violated the law. “

Another huge problem. OK, so the NSA has violated the law. What is anyone going to do about it? The EFF and ACLU have already lost cases because they haven’t been able to prove standing (prove definitively that they’ve been spied on). The most useful leak Snowden could have made was a dump of the data the NSA had on these groups. Then they could show standing, then they could sue, then we could get some non-secret non-kangaroo precedent on this stuff. But now, we know all this is happening, we know it’s “legal” but certainly unconstitutional, and we can pretty safely bet that no one involved will ever see the inside of a prison. That’s the real shame.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Congress needs a way to declassify things, a way to actually override the executive branch on clear breaches like this.

This exists. It’s called the Speech or Debate clause. it’s not clear why they don’t invoke it now (or didn’t invoke it back when they found out what was going on – a long time ago).

bigpicture says:

Re: McCarthy

You may not be old enough to remember McCarthyism, when there was a communist (not a terrorist) hiding under every bed. These commies never harmed life of limb, it was their ideology that was the issue. The Human Rights provided for in the Constitution got violated right left and center. (not much different than the Patriot Act) This is just a new excuse, a new Pearl Harbour if you will, an excuse to lock up American citizens in camps, under pretense that they are enemies. The Founding Fathers would roll on their graves.

Anonymous Coward says:

This again underlines the theme that you can’t believe what you are hearing about these spying programs. You can’t believe the government, you can’t believe the officials, and it’s right down to totally against all intents and purposes of the Constitutions and the Bill of Rights.

They are spending tax money like dipping in the waterfall for just as much as they can grab apparently but aren’t really accountable for anything in the process.

Sense no one seems to be able to be honest and straight forward about these things, it’s time to end them and Amash’s bill should go forward again to totally defund this business until straight and honest answers can be given.

At this point, maybe the GOP has something after all with blocking the budget bill for the total government.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Time to get the monster

Wyden and Udall seem to be the only people in Washington with any spine or courage when it comes to the NSA, the Patriot Act and other assorted things.

Too bad not so many others are that interested, in either preserving what’s left of our very tattered and battered Constitutional rights or the rule of law.

Let’s just hope and pray they’re not shut down prematurely by some stupid Republican thinking it’s unpatriotic of Senators to do their jobs or upholding their oath of office.

Heaven knows, we could use some more of them.

Coyne Tibbets says:

The NSA would lie? Color me surprised!

Actually, my real response is, “Well, duh!”

We make accusations about politicians, but in the case of these security wonks, it really is true that, “If their lips are moving, they’re lying.” Not surprising that they have a credibility problem.

“We can’t talk about that because…national security.” (Lie.)
“We can’t talk about that because it would invade someone’s privacy.” (Lie.)
“We wouldn’t do anything to violate citizen rights.” (Lie.)
“We wouldn’t do anything not authorized by Congress or the executive.” (Lie.)
“This is necessary for the safety of citizens.” (Lie.)
“We wouldn’t use our accumulated trove of data for anything other than national security concerns.” (Lie.)
“We only record foreign nationals.” (Lie.)
“This is all about [terrorists/terrorism].” (Lie.)
“We don’t record [phone calls/email/web/social sites/financial transactions/medical records/mail/security video/GPS location].” (Lie.)
“We wouldn’t lie.” (Big lie!)

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