USA Freedom Act Fails To Move Forward… For Incredibly Stupid Reasons

from the onto-the-next-round dept

So, this evening the USA Freedom Act failed to get the 60 votes it needed for cloture to “advance” to a full floor vote. It ended up at 58 to 42. There was a short debate prior to the vote, and the debate was… stupid. Yes, there are some legitimate concerns with the USA Freedom Act, mostly in that it doesn’t go far enough. But that’s not what the debate was about at all. You had a bunch of bizarrely clueless Senators, many of whom insisted they were against the act because it would take the bulk collection out of the hands of the NSA and put it into the hands of the telcos — with the claim being that the NSA could keep that data safer. Senators Susan Collins and Saxby Chambliss kept harping on that point. But it’s flat out wrong. Because the whole point of this is that the telcos already have this data. The debate is between “telcos have the data” and “telcos and NSA have the data.” Arguing that telcos-only is inherently more likely to lead to a privacy violation makes no sense at all.

Chambliss went further, repeating (over and over again) that it’s okay for the NSA to have this data because only 22 people have access to it. Of course, as Marcy Wheeler points out, that’s not true. 22 people can authorize a search based on “reasonable articulable suspicion” but many others can access the results. Furthermore, as Harley Geiger points out, the problem is not even at the point of access, but collection, and there’s nothing in the law that says the limit is always 22. Frankly, the whole 22 people debate seems strange to me. Is Chambliss really arguing that it’s okay to violate the 4th Amendment if only 22 people can do it?

Separately, Senator Dianne Feinstein very reluctantly supported the bill, noting that she’s very afraid that if this bill doesn’t pass, the whole Section 215 program will go away. Frankly, that actually sounded like a good reason not to support the bill. She also kept insisting that it wasn’t being abused because there were only “288” searches last year on that data. First of all, 288 already seems like quite a lot to me, and again we go to Marcy Wheeler for the fact check, where she points out that it’s not 288 searches, but rather 288 “selectors,” which could be queried multiple times (and those selectors could scoop up lots of data).

Hopefully, it turns out that Senator Feinstein’s “fears” on this bill were accurate, and that it leads to the end of Section 215 altogether. But, the completely bogus debate over this effort just highlights how ridiculous the idea is that the Senate has any sort of “oversight” over the NSA, or that it has the interests of the Constitution or the public in mind.

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Comments on “USA Freedom Act Fails To Move Forward… For Incredibly Stupid Reasons”

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Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Chambliss is out now though. He ‘retired’ (odds on a defense lobby job?) but instead there will be Crooked Sonny’s cousin (Georgia politics is as bad as federal for dynasties)

It’s odd though, I had EFF telling me ‘support this bill’, and Fight for the Future saying ‘object to the bill because it doesn’t go far enough’. Looks like FFTF got the same result as those that opposed AV+ in the UK because ‘its not proportional representation’ – we get nothing except a symbol that the status quo is ok.

But Saxby doesn’t surprise me, he’s been a big NSA supporter for years, and since he’s now a lame duck, he could spout anything he wants.

Anonymous Coward says:

This vote was nothing more than a dog and pony show. You don’t bring a vote like this to the floor unless you know whether it’s going to pass or not, and if this were going to pass it would have never come up for a vote.

This is misdirection at it’s finest. The government’s way of saying “well, we wanted to rain in the NSA, but gosh darn-nit, security is a tough choice and sometimes, as much as we hate it, you just have to air on the side of caution.”

And the circus continues…

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That was misleading. This was NOT a Patriot Act “renewal.” All it did was try to line up the small parts of the Patriot Act that were up for sunset to the same time as the FAA was up for sunset, so that both could be debated together.

Using it to claim that this was about the Patriot Act renewal was misleading.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow. I didn’t think my opinion of Congress could be lowered. How do these “representatives” actually represent the citizens again? Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see it. At all. Or ever will.

Whats the title of that one act again where they remove these insulatedindividuals from their positions?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The US Constitution has a ‘speech and debate’ clause, which basically means members can enter anything into the congressional record free of any legal ramifications. This is how the Pentagon Papers were published in the 70s, and how the CIA torture report may be published this year.

Now, Senators could lose their security clearance or be censured or otherwise get an in-house punishment, but they cannot be brought up on charges for something said (or “said” by getting it in the record) on the floor.

Edward Teach says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I feel compelled to observer that losing security clearances is a pretty big penalty for an elected official that hopes to slip through the revolving door and start gobbling from the feed trough of Most Holy Security Spending.

The Denver Post is reporting that lame duck Senator Mark Udall is considering reading the Senate’s CIA Torture report into the record. If he doesn’t, and then does the revolving door into “national security” I personally will be upset, not that my anger means anything to him.

Anonymous Coward says:


Might be a stupid question but what is ment with “selector”? Is it one search term like f.e. “bomb”, “time/date” or “suspect name” and a program then goes through all the data and returns anything that contains that term?

If that were the case then 288 is a huge number. Just think how much you can find on Google with 288 different words.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

I personally have a Cassandraesque frustration that America’s laity continues to believe they have certain rights until they personally discove the hard way that they’re gone.

I anticipate the GOP has been itching to get control of the surveillance state and I expect the Democrats have been rightly afraid of how they might extend it’s function and reach. Not because the Dems are any less shady.

But part of good governance in the US is to not take power you’d want in the hands of your worst enemy or in the hands of a raving sociopath.

I predict we, or those of us who survive are going to learn some rather harsh lessons when the Southern Strategy Party is in power to decide who to detect, disappear and torture without a modicum of due process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I predict we, or those of us who survive are going to learn some rather harsh lessons when the Southern Strategy Party is in power to decide who to detect, disappear and torture without a modicum of due process.

The nooses are tightening, and that tightening will continue regardless of whichever puppet party holds the reigns of the Stasi-state.

From my experience the only difference between the two parties is as follows:

The republicans are disgraceful, ignorant (or pretend to be), backwood hicks who would sell their mother for a nickle and ship her to the buyer COD. They wear this characterization proudly and their disgraceful, ignorant, backwood hick voters buy it up like bullets at an NRA convention.

The democrats are disgraceful pandering fraudsters who would sell their mother for a nickle and ship her to the buyer COD. The characterizations they employ to appeal to their voters are completely fabricated. There is nothing real or concrete about these parasites, just a vibrant lust for money and power wrapped in the empty suit of a bad stage actor.

A republican is (or pretends to be) a poorly educated yeehaw country boy with no conscience selling the country to the highest bidder.

A democrat is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, selling the country to the highest bidder.

The dichotomy of the swaying ship of state – two inverse parties keeping each other in check – has degenerated into an illusion that works to keep the citizens of America at each others throats while the corporatists rob the store and impose their fascist will upon the nation.

It’s all theater now. Anyone who believes differently (for instance, those who have a stake in the freedom act vote discussed here) is being played like a fiddle.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

well, its actually worse than that…
you see, they are not ALL clueless, stupid, ignorant, heartless, eee-vil bastards, many of them are VERY cunning, but are still heartless, eee-vil bastards…

sure, some of them are led around by the nose because they are tools and fools, but a number of them are borderline personalities or outright sociopaths who BELIEVE you stupid sheeple do not ‘deserve’ to know the truth and make decisions for ‘our’ country, and can be herded around wherever they want by simply saying ‘BOO!’ every once in a while…

why shouldn’t they think that ?
its worked great for them so far…

Anonymous Coward says:

The USA Freedom Act has been watered down so much compared to the original version, I hope it no longer passes. This would causing section 215 to simply expire. Allowing the sunset provision in section 215 to take effect.

That’s why the sunset provision was included in the bill. To allow a way out in case of governmental abuse. We’ve reached that point long ago.

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