Obama Apparently Ready To Kill Bulk Phone Record Collection… As New House Bill Lowers Standards For Data Collection

from the how's-that-going-to-work dept

With two of his own review panels saying that the bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act had failed to produce anything of value, and one of them clearly stating that it was also illegal and unconstitutional, the NY Times is reporting that President Obama is finally ready to call for the true end of the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. Surprisingly, according to that report, President Obama is willing to do this without adding data retention requirements for the telcos to hold onto that data themselves. If true, that really is a pretty big deal — though it only covers the issue of the bulk phone records collection. That leaves other forms of bulk collection under Section 215 in place. So, in effect, it seems like an agreement to kill off the one high profile problematic program that hasn’t been remotely useful, rather than a full policy shift. It’s a start, however.

Unfortunately, at the same time that’s happening, it appears that the House Intelligence Committee, run by Rep. Mike Rogers is pushing a new bill that would take a step towards limiting some aspects of the NSA’s data collection powers, but also lowering the standard by which the government could collect specific information:

The bill, titled the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014 and currently circulating on Capitol Hill, would prevent the government from acquiring “records of any electronic communication without the use of specific identifiers or selection terms,” some 10 months after the Guardian first exposed the bulk collection based on leaks by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

But the bill would allow the government to collect electronic communications records based on “reasonable articulable suspicion”, rather than probable cause or relevance to a terrorism investigation, from someone deemed to be an agent of a foreign power, associated with an agent of a foreign power, or “in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power.”

While a separate report says that this House bill would actually ban the mass collection of other types of data (including internet activity) as well as phone records (i.e., going further than the Obama proposal), it would leave out the requirement that a court approve specific requests for information before it’s submitted to a company.

But unlike other pending legislation, it does not call for judicial approval of a specific phone number before a request for data is submitted to a company.

The Rogers-Ruppersberger legislation would have the court make that determination “promptly” after the FBI submits a number to a phone company. If the court did not approve the number as being linked to an agent of a foreign power, including terrorist groups, the data collected would be expunged.

The details of these proposals are going to matter a lot. The full House bill is expected to be introduced in a few hours, and it will take some time to go through the details to see if there are any dangerous easter eggs hidden in there. Still, for all the arguments from Rep. Rogers and the Obama administration about how “necessary” these programs have been and how horrible it’s been that Ed Snowden revealed the details to the press, these moves show just how much of an impact the Snowden leaks have had on the public debate concerning surveillance. It will take some time to sort through the details of these proposals, but it’s safe to say without Snowden’s actions, none of this would be happening.

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Comments on “Obama Apparently Ready To Kill Bulk Phone Record Collection… As New House Bill Lowers Standards For Data Collection”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Snowden disrupted Govt activities and forced a few individuals inside to move from their comfort zones. If you stretch the definition of terrorist a bit (and this is very easy seeing it means virtually anything nowadays) then he would fit precisely in.

Sure tides are changing but at what intensity? Will it be enough or are they just doing enough to silence all the outrage and move on?

Anonymous Coward says:

Nice expansive definition you've got there

from someone deemed to be an agent of a foreign power, associated with an agent of a foreign power, or “in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power”

I work with a lot of graduate students at a major university in the United States. Many of them are from foreign countries, ranging from “Canada” to “Singapore”. So they could be “agents of foreign powers”, although I certainly have no idea which, and absent the ability to research their backgrounds one at a time, I have no way to find out.

They could be “associated with agents of foreign powers”: their parents, siblings, neighbors, roommates, etc. could be so and again, I have no way to find that out. They might not even have a way to find that out.

A “suspected agent”? Well. That covers pretty much anyone, including the PoTUS, who was (and still is) allegedly an agent of a foreign power according to some of his more wild-eyed opponents.

“in contact with or known to”? Great. There are all kinds of students that I’ve never spoken to (we just haven’t interacted) but we’ve been in the bathroom or kitchen or hallway at the same time. I guess that’s “contact”. And since I’m a staff member, I’m probably “known to” them, even though I have no idea who they are.

So. This definition covers every single staff and faculty member in my school, and quite likely in all the other schools in the university. It also covers the students. And it probably does the same at every other university in the United States that has a diverse population of students. Oh…and faculty. And staff. So by this definition, it’s okay to spy on ALL of us.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to note how this extends to corporations…non-profits…community organizations…sports teams…etc.

David says:

"The bill, titled the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014"

I am reminded of “Through the Looking Glass”:

‘Or else it doesn’t, you know. The name of the song is called “HADDOCKS’

‘Oh, that’s the name of the song, is it?’ Alice said, trying to feel

‘No, you don’t understand,’ the Knight said, looking a little vexed.
‘That’s what the name is CALLED. The name really IS “THE AGED AGED

‘Then I ought to have said “That’s what the SONG is called”?’ Alice
corrected herself.

‘No, you oughtn’t: that’s quite another thing! The SONG is called “WAYS
AND MEANS”: but that’s only what it’s CALLED, you know!’

‘Well, what IS the song, then?’ said Alice, who was by this time
completely bewildered.

‘I was coming to that,’ the Knight said. ‘The song really IS “A-SITTING
ON A GATE”: and the tune’s my own invention.’

It seems that we have a proliferance of bills who are actually called pretty much the opposite of what they are. “Patriot act”, “End of bulk collection”, “free trade treaty” and so on.

Basically it seems more relevant for the content of a bill to look at who’s proposing it rather than what it is called.

Regarding the accuracy of labelling, I am reminded of that famous Gandhi quote when he was asked by a reporter in London: “Mr Gandhi, what do you think of Western Civilization?” — “I would consider it a good idea.”

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Let’s assume Obama publicly kills the collection of bulk phone records. Would anyone actually believe that?

Here’s the rub: Let’s assume they don’t stop. And let’s assume they get caught again. What consequences would anyone face (other than the whistleblower)? None. Nada. Zip. So there’s no actual downside to continuing in secret.

This is merely a ruse to make the collection secret again.

Anonymous Coward says:

I prefer the good old 4th Amendment, where an individualized warrant is only issued on strong probable cause. I believe the Founding Fathers knew that judges would get fed up with issuing hundreds, if not thousands, of warrants, every single day.

The 4th Amendment is our strongest ammunition against bulk unconstitutional spying. The US Gov is trying everything they can think of, to water down our 4th Amendment rights and freedoms.

I simply can’t support a Bill drafted by a committee, who’s headed by Sen. Spytein and Misrep. Rogers. Common sense tells me that supporting such a Bill, would be a grave mistake for US democracy.

For example. The “End Bulk Collection Act of 2014” seems to allow the US Gov to seize and search any communication leaving a US border, without a warrant. The warrant is issued ‘after’ the US Gov seizes and searches though 5 years worth of someone’s communication history, if they think they have a legal case, or if they can somehow parallel construct the evidence in another fashion.

So if I point my web browser to a foreign news site, such as http://www.spiegel.de, that’s all the excuse the US Gov needs to search though the last 5+ years of my internet browsing history, without a warrant.

Who cares if the evidence is inadmissible in court. My constitutional rights against unwarranted illegal search and seizure has already been violated! If the evidence is inadmissible under “End Bulk Collection Act”, then parallel construction tactics will be deployed against the target.

The Intelligence Committee is simply trying to wash away the 4th Amendment by throwing buckets of water on it. Giving it a misleading name like Patriot Act, or End Bulk Collection Act, helps to mislead the public.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Ed Snowden, it’s to never take Intelligence Agencies, or their supporters, at their word. Their words are extremely misleading.

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