Eric Holder Admits That, If It Wanted, NSA Could Collect Internet Searches & Emails Just Like Phone Metadata

from the no-constitutional-issue-at-all dept

During a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning oversight, Rep. Zoe Lofgren decided to quiz Attorney General Eric Holder about the federal government’s surveillance efforts, starting off with a rather simple question. She notes that the bulk phone record collection program is considered to be legal by its supporters, based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows for the collection of “business records.” So, she wonders, is there any legal distinction between phone records and, say, internet searches or emails? In other words, does the DOJ believe that it would be perfectly legal for the US government to scoop up all your search records and emails without a warrant? Holder clearly does not want to answer the question, and first tries to answer a different question, concerning the bulk phone records program, and how the administration is supposedly committed to ending it. But eventually he’s forced to admit that there’s no legal distinction:

This is important. As you may recall, some of the attempts to deal with the phone record collection, including President Obama’s, focus only on ending the specific phone record collection program, not the underlying law (or the interpretation of that law). This isn’t to say that there are ongoing programs to do bulk warrantless collection of those other types of information, but it is worth recognizing that the government believes there would be no Constitutional issue if it decided to set up such a program.

All along, this has been the problem with Section 215. When it first was discussed, it was often called the “library” provision, as the example that people talked about was using Section 215 to collect the records of what books someone checked out of the library. However, as the phone collection program showed, it’s been turned into something much, much broader. Fixing this interpretation is going to take a lot more than just ending one program. It requires changing what is allowed by Section 215.

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Comments on “Eric Holder Admits That, If It Wanted, NSA Could Collect Internet Searches & Emails Just Like Phone Metadata”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I would assume that the Atorney General of the United States would, y’know, stand up for the rule of law.

Eric has too many ghosts in the closet. The last thing he wants is standing up for the law as that means he would have to respond to the request for a special investigation into Fast and Furious and his part in it.

TasMot (profile) says:

Is there any way to collect all that hot air to heat my house?

Congress seems to be willing to spend countless (at least I’d rather they not spend more of my tax money to count how much it is costing) hours and millions of dollars to keep finding out that these “terrorist” laws are being used to conduct surveillance on EVERYBODY.
Can anybody just tell Congress to shut up, stop holding meetings and repeal these bad laws or pass new ones to put a stop to it.
Can we tell them to create a specific, concrete, court usable test that everyone understands to define a terrorist activity and then make that illegal.
That will stop the “talk only” terrorist traps the FBI seems so fond of spewing PR about.
It will stop whistleblowers from being terrorists.
It will stop a lot of the “made up” criminals law enforcement seems fond of catching.
AND, it will force the NSA to stop the programs that everybody outside of the NSA doesn’t seem to want.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Is there any way to collect all that hot air to heat my house?

The only thing that’s going to stop, even for a little bit, the NSA from continuing their activities, whether they’re considered legal or not, is if someone starts dragging the higher-ups responsible for all this mess to court, prosecutes them, and throws them in prison.

So far, with absolutely none of that happening, they have no incentive not to continue on, business as usual, because hey, it’s not like they face anything more severe than an angry public and blustery, yet ultimately empty threats by a few politicians to ‘do something’, so why should they care whether or not what they’re doing is legal or not?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The pattern so far is that once they deny doing something nefarious, the document showing they’re lying comes out a couple of days later. I expect that this pattern will continue.

I have to say, this is a brilliant strategy. MUCH better than a blanket document dump, as this is a constant reminder as to how much we can trust the NSA et al.

Eric says:

Government to read emails

Well, they can read this. Ho Chi Minh is a hero, because he and the North Vietnamese folks united a country where it used to be North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Sadly, France and the United States learned a lesson the hard way. They should have stayed out of the Vietnamese conflict and would have saved thousands of soldier lives (Vietnamese, French and Americans).

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