A Bunch Of Politicians Who Complain About Trump's Authoritarian Tendencies Just Gave Him 6 Years To Warrantlessly Spy On Americans

from the because-reasons dept

As was widely expected after Tuesday’s close vote on cloture, the Senate officially voted to renew (in a somewhat expanded way) Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act by a vote of 65 to 34. That also means a few of those who voted against cloture switched over and voted for the program, including Senators Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer. President Trump will almost certainly sign the bill shortly, despite confusing basically everyone last week by tweeting out complaints about the program, despite his White House vehemently supporting it.

Trump’s confusion isn’t all that surprising. What is surprising is just how many people who have been complaining and warning about Trump made this possible. In the House, vocal Trump critics including Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell were among those who voted for this bill which, again, gives the FBI the power to spy on Americans without warrants via the collection of content (not metadata) swept up by the NSA. While defenders of the program keep insisting the program cannot be used to “target” Americans, they leave out that a ridiculous amount of American content is swept up into this collection, which can then be sifted through without a warrant, including a huge amount of communications of Americans.

Over on the Senate side, things were even more ridiculous. Senator Jeff Flake voted for cloture, helping to end (the already non-existing) debate on such surveillance, and blocking any amendments. And then, the very next morning, went on the Senate floor to slam the President, compare him to Stalin, and warn that our democracy may not survive. Again, this was mere hours after Senator Flake voted to give more surveillance powers to the President he was about to compare to Stalin.

Or how about Dianne Feinstein? It may be no surprise that Feinstein voted to continue and expand surveillance — she has a long history of doing exactly that. But just about an hour before voting for cloture, Feinstein herself introduced an amendment that would have required a warrant to search the corpus of data collected under 702. And then she voted to block that amendment from even being voted on. Let me repeat that, because it’s just that insane: Feinstein introduced an amendment to the 702 renewal, that would have required a warrant to sniff through the data… and then voted against allowing that amendment to be heard and voted on. Within an hour or so. And, since cloture needed 60 votes and just squeezed through with those 60 votes… Feinstein could have changed the debate herself. But chose not to.

Or how about Senator Claire McCaskill. She was the final vote for cloture and took over an hour after the vote was called to actually reach the floor. She was the actual deciding vote, as, if she voted against it, the cloture vote would have had only 59 yaes, and the debate would have continued, and amendments proposed. Trump has been loudly denouncing McCaskill for months as she’s facing a tough reelection campaign. And her response was to deny any further debate or amendments and to vote to give Trump more surveillance powers.

These are not the only ones. Many vocal critics of the President just handed him much greater power to warrantlessly spy on Americans — something the President (in a confused way) complained about concerning what he believed (incorrectly) was illegal spying on his own campaign.

Zack Whittaker at ZDnet has also compiled a list of elected officials who had put out earlier statements promising to reform surveillance… only to then vote for this program. It includes both Swalwell and Feinstein mentioned above, but many others as well.

Over at Lawfare, a site that has long defended basically every aspect of the surveillance state, reliable surveillance defenders Jack Goldsmith and Susan Hennessey tried to defend the paradox of not trusting Trump, but giving him the ability to warrantlessly spy on Americans. The crux of it is basically… “we don’t trust Trump, but there are good people in the intelligence and law enforcement communities and they’d never abuse these powers.”

More broadly, one of the underappreciated developments in the post-Snowden-revelations era is the absence of credible allegations of political or venal use of 702 authorities. In essence, the public evidence confirms that the problems that used to bedevil secret electronic surveillance through the Hoover/Nixon era—namely, senior political figures deploying intelligence agencies and tools for inappropriate, abusive political purposes—have been resolved by a robust legal regime of oversight and reporting. When Sen. Elizabeth Warren points to the surveillance abuses directed at Martin Luther King Jr. to argue against 702, she actually highlights the opposite point: the massive transparency, both voluntary and involuntary, over the past few years about how Section 702 operates shows that it has not been abused for domestic political spying and implies that the 40 years of post-Hoover legal reforms are largely a success (though not without hiccups). The fact that President Trump has not focused his abusive energies on intelligence collection is a testament to the efficacy of the legal and cultural constraints on electronic surveillance.

Not surprisingly, Marcy Wheeler rips these claims to shreds in a response on her own blog, noting that beyond factual errors in the piece, it more or less ignores the FBI’s role in all of this. Even if we grant the (incorrect) claim that the NSA doesn’t abuse this data, that’s not at all clear on the FBI side — especially when the FBI refuses to provide any details at all:

You can’t pass a bill that effectively blesses FBI’s use of back door searches on Americans about whom it has no evidence of any wrongdoing, while admitting you don’t know how FBI conducts those back door searches, and make any claim to conduct adequate oversight. Rather, the bill permits FBI to continue practices it has stubbornly refused to brief Congress on, rather than demanding that FBI brief Congress first, so Congress can impose any restrictions that might be necessary to adequately protect Americans.

Furthermore, Wheeler notes that Hennessey and Goldsmith completely ignore how this gives Attorney General Jeff Sessions incredible unreviewable power to make use of this warrantless data for criminal prosecutions, hiding where he got the information from.

But it’s the unreviewable authority for Jeff Sessions bit that is the real problem.

We know, for example, that painting Black Lives Matter as a national security threat is key to the Trump-Sessions effort to criminalize race. We also know that Trump has accused his opponents of treason, all for making critical comments about Trump.

This bill gives Sessions unreviewable authority to decide that a BLM protest organized using or whistleblowing relying on Tor, discovered by collection done in the name of hunting Russian spies, can be referred for prosecution. The fact that the underlying data predicating any prosecution was obtained without a warrant under 702 would — in part because this bill doesn’t add teeth to FISA notice — ensure that courts would never learn the genesis of the prosecution. Even if a court somehow managed to do so, however, it could never deem the domestic surveillance unlawful because the bill gives Jeff Sessions the unreviewable authority to treat dissent as a national security threat.

This is such an obviously bad idea, and it is being supported by people who talk incessantly about the threat that Trump and Sessions present. Yet, rather than addressing the issue head on (which I doubt Hennessey could legally do in any case), they simply remain silent about what is the biggest complaint from privacy activists, that this gives a racist, vindictive Attorney General far more authority than he should have, and does so without fixing the inadequate protections for criminal defendants along the way.

And, now, it appears that (unless Fox News somehow intervenes again) the President will sign this bill. EFF has put out an open letter about how awful this is, and how it intends to fight this in court. But, this was a major missed opportunity, and what’s most incredible and disappointing is how many people who complain about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies were central to making it possible.

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Comments on “A Bunch Of Politicians Who Complain About Trump's Authoritarian Tendencies Just Gave Him 6 Years To Warrantlessly Spy On Americans”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Feinstein

“Might there be a slight problem in the U.S. plurality voting system that installs authoritarians like Feinstein into high office ?”

The one that many of these fucks ignorantly and sanctimoniously believe is a democracy.

You just can’t help stupid, it has to help itself first!

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Feinstein

It’s not about age. The youngest member of the Senate is Tom Cotton, and he voted the same way Feinstein did. Some older senators — Sanders and Warren, for example — voted Nay. The effort to amend FISA with additional privacy protections was led by one older Democratic senator (Wyden) and one younger Republican one (Paul).

I’m not big on the ageism thing, and “hope she dies soon” is a pretty terrible thing to say about somebody. Maybe instead of wishing for Feinstein’s death, you could give some support to Kevin de Leon, who’s running against her in this year’s primary.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Two Sides of the Same Coin

And yet there is a grain of truth there; the last four presidents either had dodgy policies or they didn’t. They either created and expanded the surveillance state or they didn’t. Are they equal to each other? No, but it’s not a competition.

Trump was supposed to drain the swamp (he filled it) and demolish the Deep State (he whined about it but did nothing about it); he hasn’t. The alphabet soup of competing security agencies either are or are not subject to rigorous oversight; I think we can agree they are not.

Instead of shouting “False equivalence!” let us embrace our ally and see what we can do to change the political landscape in the mid-terms. No one is obliged to agree with all of us all of the time.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Are you sure he’s done nothing about the Deep State?

He’s certainly been doing a reasonably decent job of cleaning out career public servants from various government departments, and it’s my understanding that that is exactly who the Deep State is supposed to be: the people who remain in place across changes of administration, and (according to the reasoning) are therefore in position to block whatever reforms the new administration wants to put in from having meaningful effect.

I suspect that the “deep state” is also what was being referred to by mentions of the “swamp”, and that cleaning it out is exactly what he was promising to do when he said he’d “drain the swamp”.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Two Sides of the Same Coin

Yeah… about that… he’s cleared out career public servants who know how stuff works as part of Bannon’s “Deconstruction of the state” agenda.

Result: people who don’t know what they’re doing are in charge.

Meanwhile, the apparatus of surveillance remains in place and his cabinet is full of the Wall Street types he pledged to get rid of.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Two Sides of the Same Coin

But that’s my point: are you sure he pledged to get rid of the Wall Street types? I don’t remember him doing it in unambiguous terms; he may have, but at the very least I don’t remember it being one of his major campaign talking points. (The closest I remember him coming is words to the effect of “I’ve abused the system so much for so long that I know better than anyone else how to fix all the problems that I’ve abused”, which he has certainly abandoned.)

I don’t think talking about “draining the swamp” was talking about getting rid of big-business Wall-Street types at all.

I think it was talking about getting rid of the “deep state” -the entrenched “muck” in which policy-change efforts sink – and that he defines that in the way I described.

And although I agree that cleaning out the people who know how things work and keep things running is a (potentially catastrophically) bad idea, he does seem to have been effective at doing that.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Two Sides of the Same Coin

I think it’s possible that he (and/or the portions of his base who subscribe to the “deep state” idea) may have a differing idea of which people are the ones who need dealing with.

But if you have sources to indicate that most (and/or the most important) of the non-elected public servants who persist across administrations and provide institutional knowledge, et cetera, are still there, I’d be interested to learn of them; it would be positive news, from my perspective.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Same Coin

@ Dealy, there are two wrong statements in your post:

1) Government does not deliver rulers of any kind over us, we vote them in and we can vote them out.

2) There’s no defect in the overall government system, people are not availing themselves of the opportunity to take part in the democratic process, which might be down to decades of a) not teaching civics properly (if at all) and b) presenting the government as the boogeyman, not the servant of the public to do its bidding.

If you want to see 2) in action take a look through the history of SOPA. Bear in mind that liberty requires eternal vigilance and many of us are sleeping on the job.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Same Coin


OK, well enough– after properly learning civics & availing yourself of the opportunity to take part in the democratic process — who did you vote for in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election? And are you fully satisfied with that election process from your personal viewpoint?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Same Coin

After looking into this I assume you are advocating for something akin to the ‘alternative vote’ method? The problem I see with this method is that you, in effect, lose some control over who you vote for. Even if you put down only one candidate, if they don’t win, your vote will be shifted to someone else.

That may be fine for some people but I think this really won’t solve the problem. You will instead get people saying their votes were shifted to someone they didn’t want. And it still trends towards a two party system.

I think our voting system is fine as is. The problem is not the system, it’s the people. People have become so polarized and afraid that ‘a vote for a third party is a vote who you don’t want’ that they don’t truly vote their conscience, they vote for who they think has the best chance of winning who isn’t the candidate they really don’t want to win.

I don’t think the system needs to be changed, people do. And I think there are things we can do to discourage a ‘two party’ system without changing the voting system itself.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Same Coin

I’m advocating for ranked-preference voting, in which your vote consists of a list of the candidates in order from the one you prefer most to the one you prefer least.

No votes get shifted, that way.

(And, no, we can’t meaningfully prevent a two-party system without changing the voting system. Over the long term, the structural incentives of the single-choice first-past-the-post voting system cause it to inevitably devolve towards a two-party model.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Two Sides of the Same Coin

Tsk, temper temper.

Given that most people on here disagree with you and agree with that comment you don’t care about, then you really don’t care about the majority of people on here, including the TD authors since I’m quite sure they are not in favor of burning our system of government to the ground and starting over.

As for who says more, well, your comment does say something, just not what you think.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Claim

Which Constitution?

There’s the one they teach in school, sometimes – old thing, written long ago. Its not used much except when its impossible not to, or when the public is paying attention.

Then there’s the one that was rewritten by corporate lawyers after the 9/11 false flag operation, to allow, among other things, the invocation of the war measures act against American civilians – “the adversary” – in secret.

War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on File-Sharing, all a part of the War on the Adversary – civilians.

There is no way that anyone could have stopped this FISA fiasco, because it was never really up for a vote. That’s just smoke and mirrors now, as with elections.

The Spy on The Adversary program is a major part of the corporate secret war effort, and absolutely necessary for blackmail of the opposition – read Democrats – and to prevent public revolt by eavesdropping on all their communications, which allows them to root out any fledgling conspirators before they can get organized.

You all just witnessed a bunch of Democrats suddenly turn 180 degrees from their public stance. This is the power of blackmail.

It is truly fascinating to watch millions of adults pretend there is nothing bad going on, just to protect their income.

Astounding really. But this one is definitely gonna bite you in the ass if you don’t wake up and smell the coffee.

Hell, its probably already too late.


GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Claim

“There is no evidence to support anything that you assert and is in fact a large amount of evidence proving you wrong.”

Now that is impressive!

A blanket denial, followed by a blanket claim, both without even the smallest bit of supportive data.

Just can’t deal with scary thoughts eh.

Well, at least you’re in good company.

This is generally how most Americans deal with the notion that the bad-guys are winning.

Its called make-believe.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Claim

I’m in good company then since you provided absolutely zero data to support your claims.

Pardon me if I rely more on facts than thinking there is a massive conspiracy so large that it encompasses our entire government, yet not one bit of evidence has leaked to prove it. Either they are so good at keeping secrets that it defies all statistical odds and probability, or there is no conspiracy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Learn this ONE concept: THE Establishment.

With the over-arching view you will never again be surprised by apparent contradictions: "What is surprising is just how many people who have been complaining and warning about Trump made this possible."

Nor is it "incredible". Ordinary operation of the Washington DC branch of The Globalists. DC is like most countries in active conspiracy with The Globalists and against The Public.

Don’t be misled (or try to mislead) either because are many commercial fronts for SPYING: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft… All SPIES. There are NO major corporations left outside for an alternative.

It is only ONE concept because The Rich strive for ONE WORLD totally under Their control. Corporatization has been put in place patiently for over a hundred years, and with computerization near total surveillance is on verge of becoming reality — better than in the novel "1984".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Learn this ONE concept: THE Establishment.

You know, Masnick, if you’re truly puzzled by the way DC operates, you should just close the site: it’s too complex for you. The first 3 comments clearly state more than you ever will. And of course for same cause, no one should bother with this site except for fun.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

What I think they said was...

"…they leave out that a ridiculous amount of American content is swept up into this collection, which can then be sifted through without a warrant,…"

Not just sifted through, interpreted, maybe out of contexts, maybe not. Some of this will come down to what they ‘think’ they said, in a court, and then, given the way things are going, it will be up to the defendant to prove they are not guilty, rather than enjoy the presumption of innocence.

How many ways is this backwards? Void the 4rth Amendment, void the presumption of innocence, give sanction to Brady material violations (they presented what they believed to be the truth rather than giving over exculpatory information) etc..

Can this pass a SCOTUS review? Will several Appellate Courts question it? I hope no to the former and yes to the latter, though it will probably be that the reverse (order of decision) is the case.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Spines and self-respect: Not to be found in DC apparently

And then, the very next morning, went on the Senate floor to slam the President, compare him to Stalin, and warn that our democracy may not survive. Again, this was mere hours after Senator Flake voted to give more surveillance powers to the President he was about to compare to Stalin.

Something which any even remotely intelligent political opponent will be able to use against him to completely undercut any such claims in the future.

"Sure he claimed he had a huge problem with Trump, but what did he do mere hours before? Gave him more power! It’s obvious then that he was simply grandstanding, and nothing he said should be taken seriously."

Let me repeat that, because it’s just that insane: Feinstein introduced an amendment to the 702 renewal, that would have required a warrant to sniff through the data… and then voted against allowing that amendment to be heard and voted on. Within an hour or so.

Likewise with Feinstien. She’s been a cheerleader for domestic spying for ages, so the fact that she would support it here is no surprise, and by introducing an amendment that she then immediately voted to block, it’s pretty trivial to see that it was nothing more than a pathetic attempt to have it both ways. To look like she was in favor of warrant requirements, yet ‘reluctantly’ vote against them. I would hope that such a blatantly obvious attempt will be pointed out by any critic and/or opponents.

Trump has been loudly denouncing McCaskill for months as she’s facing a tough reelection campaign. And her response was to deny any further debate or amendments and to vote to give Trump more surveillance powers.

I dearly hope she has enough self awareness to realize that she just torpedoed her ability to criticism him on the subject in the future, and understand that she sold out to help someone who apparently holds her in contempt, dodging one possible way for political opponents to attack her merely to open up another.

They can make all the claims they want, when it came down to it the ones who actually oppose indiscriminate surveillance of the US public made their position clear, and those for whom selling out the public for cheap PR is seen as a good trade likewise made their positions crystal clear.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Spines and self-respect: Not to be found in DC apparently

"…Feinstien. She’s been a cheerleader…"

Cheerleader, can she do a split? Would anyone want to see her do a split?

On the other hand, she certainly seems to be doing ‘splits’ all over the place. Is that what we call politics? Is that what politics should be?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Spines and self-respect: Not to be found in DC apparently

Flake is not running for reelection, so he needn’t care. And as for the others, sadly I fear you’re giving the electorate too much credit. Maybe if there’s a strong primary challenger these people could be made to pay for these moves, but otherwise they’ll vote for the one with the right letter after his or her name.

dickeyrat says:

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions

…our esteemed AG, who was proudly named after two top Confederate officers/collaborators/traitors, has his personal issues enabled by our gaggle of idiots in Congress, both GOP and “GOP Lite” (known to some as “Democrats”). Little Jefferson Beauregard suffered pangs of abuse on the playground, all because of his amazing resemblance to an inbred wharf-rat. Now as he nears age 80, he gets his revenge by wielding the large phallus of his Office” in favor of surveillance, against that heathen Devil Weed (favored of course by Brown People), and the Brown (and Black) people themselves, who dare to exist in our Aryan paradise! Jefferson Beauregard would love little better than to see the entire nation turned into Uber-Alabama, ruled either tacitly or overtly by the Klan (as long as they stop smoking pot), and where “men” are free to make love to their 13 year old sisters. That’ll show those Playground Bullies who’s boss! (I realize no one on Earth gives a shit about my opinions, but I do make myself feel a little better putting them on public display! THAT’S what counts for me!)

John E Cressman (profile) says:


Everyone complains about warrant-less searches and surveillance yet despite it being used by one administration (Obama’s) to spy on a political opponent (Trump at the time) using some made up dossier, Republicans and Democrats BOTH signed on for 6 more years.

More Washington double speak. Say one thing to the press and your voters, and then do the exact opposite when you vote.

Kick them all out!

Jim Anderson (profile) says:

What do you expect?

I have a hard time understanding how anyone is surprised about the conduct of either Feinstein or McCaskill. I just signed at net neutrality petition by McCaskill and now wonder if it actually means just the opposite of what I thought it meant. This is what happens when you allow an encourage authoritarians and conserva Dems leadership positions in the Democratic Party.

hyphenitis (profile) says:

"Our happy Republic" is toast

Don’t look now but CIA is the new government.  Surprise!  The cockroaches behind the curtain are pulling the strings.

References in comments I’m seeing these days as to “How’s the weather in St. Petersburg” are sounding pretty silly.  Hillary didn’t lose because of Russia.  U.S. election corruption is of the home-grown variety & probably favored Hillary.  What little “Russian meddling” there may have been was laughably ineffectual.  That’s why the lamestream media doesn’t harp on it so much any more.

doublespeak is one word
no hyphen in nonexisting (nonexistent, nonexistence)
no hyphen in midterm, midterms
schoolyard is one word

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