House Democrats Have The Power To Protect Our Web Surfing From Warrantless FBI Searching; Instead, They're Pointing Fingers

from the not-a-good-look dept

You would think that House Democrat leaders like Speaker Pelosi and Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, who helped lead the impeachment effort against President Trump, would leap at the chance to stop Trump and the FBI from conducting warrantless searches of Americans’ internet browsing habits. Instead, they seem to be supporting it and are trying to scapegoat Rep. Zoe Lofgren — who is trying to safeguard our internet surfing — because she’s dared to push for a fix to the law. At issue is the FISA renewal bill, in which Congress has decided to take the FBI’s “backdoor searches” out of the backdoor and moved them around the front: explicitly allowing the FBI to go trawling through internet/browsing/search histories collected without a warrant by the NSA.

As we’ve discussed, over in the Senate, Senator Ron Wyden and Steve Daines pushed for a pretty straightforward amendment to say that these searches should require a warrant (yes, the 4th Amendment alone should require that, but… ) and their amendment fell just one vote short. So even though significantly more than half of the Senate voted to require a warrant, the bill that passed out of the Senate does not require a warrant. The ball then moved to the House side, and you’d think that leadership there should just put in a similar amendment — and, indeed, Rep. Lofgren had one ready to go. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Lofgren has fought to end backdoor searches for years.

However, a story in Politico argued that Lofgren’s Amendment somehow threatened to “blow up” a well-orchestrated Congressional move to make sure the FBI could keep spying without a warrant. Dell Cameron, over at Gizmodo, breaks down just how ridiculous this whole story is, and how it appears that it’s actually Speaker Pelosi and Rep. Schiff who want to let the FBI warrantless searches continue, and they’ve strong-armed Rep. Nadler into supporting this position (Nadler, who is terrible on copyright issues, usually is pretty good on civil liberties), while trying to pin any “blame” on Lofgren.

Much of the story covers shenanigans to box out Lofgren back in February when she sought to add her version of the Wyden/Daines Amendment:

A timeline of the negotiations shared with Gizmodo, which was compiled from notes and communication logs immediately after the story ran, shows that Lofgren and her allies had been pressing the Judiciary Committee about amendments to Nadler?s bill as early as February 10.

Requests to see the text were repeatedly denied, the sources said. The same FISA reformers reportedly reached out to the committee on February 12, saying that, if adopted in the form of amendments, parts of Lofgren?s bill would ensure that Nadler?s FISA re-authorization push was even more bipartisan. The Judiciary Committee reportedly turned over a draft copy of the bill the following day, but warned that ?substantial revisions? were already in the works. About a week later, the updated text was still not available.

According to this timeline, the authors of the Lofgren-Davidson amendment would not see the final text of the bill until Friday, February 21. Minus the weekend, that gave staffers roughly 24 hours to work alongside legislative counsel to draft the amendment in a way that comported with Nadler?s bill. The Lofgren-Davidson amendment was finally handed over to the Judiciary Committee that Tuesday, a full 24 hours before the markup hearing, meeting the committee?s requirements.

And when Lofgren met that deadline… Nadler cancelled the markup, effectively blocking the amendment from a vote. And this wasn’t for lack of interest:

One Republican staffer, who has direct knowledge of the negotiations, told Gizmodo that Nadler had effectively burned the Democrats by cancelling the markup hearing. The appetite for reform was certainly there, they said. Not only did the Democrat?s progressive wing and the libertarian House Freedom Caucasus support it, but many other Republicans, who?ve never shown interest in privacy reform, would have campaigned on curtailing the FBI?s authority.

It would have been useful in an election year, the staffer said, if only because President Trump has so frequently and publicly accused the FBI of breaking the law.

And so now that the bill is back on the House’s plate, Nadler is the official roadblock to getting this amendment in, though it sounds like Pelosi and Schiff are putting on the pressure from behind the scenes.

Two Democratic aides said that the pressure on Nadler to kill the Lofgren-Davidson amendment was coming ?from all sides,? and that cancelling the February hearing was probably not his own decision. Both staffers stopped short of fingering Pelosi and Schiff, but said that ?House leaders,? including ?other committee chairs,? were likely involved in that effort.

Questioning what it all means for the future of the Democratic party, which has long portrayed itself as the defender of Americans? civil liberties, one Democratic aide said: ?We need to look at ourselves and say, ?Why on earth is the Senate the body that is producing the more progressive government privacy legislation and not the House?? Why is that? I think the answer [requires] a long look in the mirror.?

Lofgren and others are now pushing to get their amendment back on the agenda, and it sure sounds like Schiff and Pelosi are trying to stop it, with Nadler — whose public statements seem to indicate his support, but his actions show otherwise — the key to actually making a decision.

I still find it bizarre that this amendment is even remotely controversial. First, it’s just making it clear that the 4th Amendment applies. Second, if bad shit is happening, the FBI can still get a warrant. Third, both Democrats (stop Trump from abusing his powers) and Republicans (stop the deep state from surveilling Americans) have ready-made stories to explain their votes.

So what’s the damn holdup?

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Comments on “House Democrats Have The Power To Protect Our Web Surfing From Warrantless FBI Searching; Instead, They're Pointing Fingers”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
RD says:

That's because..

That’s because they don’t work FOR us. Anyone who doesn’t get that by now is lost, there has been ample proof time and time again of this maxim. They consider themselves to be our leaders, not our representatives which is the whole point of government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That's because..

yeah, it’s amusing to see otherwise intelligent observers of Congress … who somehow still believe that Congressional members generally– respect and obey the Constitution, honestly and diligently represent the citizens of their districts, and see themselves as public servants rather than a ruling elite.

If one does not understand the basic nature and reality of American government… then its constant dysfunction and abuses are eternally bewildering.

Koby (profile) says:

You Might Think

You would think that House Democrat leaders like Speaker Pelosi and Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, who helped lead the impeachment effort against President Trump, would leap at the chance to stop Trump and the FBI from conducting warrantless searches of Americans’ internet browsing habits

A lot of people think that their side is better than the other, when the reality is that both sides of the political spectrum have career politicians who represent The Swamp, and not their constituents. We need term limits to get these cronies out of there.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Re: You Might Think

A lot of people think that their side is better than the other, when the reality is that both sides of the political spectrum have career politicians who represent The Swamp, and not their constituents.


Because the left & right both finally agree on something – nuance is for traitors.

Or maybe only weak people examine problems common to both parties – while one party is more egregious.

Or it could be that putting ethics over party victories means evil wins because of you.

Or … well, heck. What are the assumed rules again?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TFG says:

Re: You Might Think

No, term limits leads to a rotating crop of newbie policy-makers who are therefore that much more reliant on consultants … and lobbyists.

Term limits could help shuffle off the current crop of problems, but then you’d just end up with a new version of the same thing.

It would be much better to harshly enforce ethical requirements. Do away with all the money motives. Rigorously investigate "soft corruption." Get rid of lobbying. Institute actual penalties for oversight failures. Instituting term limits without these types of reforms won’t fix things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You Might Think

Getting rid of lobbying is a good idea, as is getting rid of "campaign contributions".

You need term limits however to avoid corruption over time. People will accrue "favors" over time. The more time passes, the bigger the return on those favors must become. "I helped you on X eight years ago and that lead to Y four years later so you owe me Z now." Another example is the multiple little favors becoming a big return. "I did X,Y, and Z for you. If you want to square up you can give me A." You can’t avoid it, it’s the nature of human interactions. Term limits put a cap on those favors and limit the damage they can do by mandating an expiration date for them. If people know that those favors are time limited, they are much less likely to make subtle bribes overtime. It won’t prevent obvious bribery for an immediate return. That’s what the penalties you described are for. It does prevent harder to trace bribery over time and both are needed.

covfefe per capitas says:

Re: You Might Think

Just because both major parties are mostly comprised of swamp creatures does not mean they are equally disgusting monsters.
One party tends to gravitate toward the more grotesque and offensive policies while the other party pretends to have empathy.

Politics is many cults of personality, perhaps it is time to vote on the issues.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: You Might Think

"We need term limits to get these cronies out of there."

Won’t help – or rather, will introduce the problems of lobbyist dependency and newbie ineptitude instead.

The main issue is that a republic is incredibly dependent on a high proportion of citizen participation to function. By design it minimizes voter impact, thus resulting in an entrenched power structure you can’t do anything about without steamrolling the college of electors, senate, and the house in one go.

And this means any "internal" fix will immediately get watered down or neutralized completely. You need change imposed from the ballots.

Direct democracy, for all its failings, is sensitive to voter dissatisfaction. Bad when an otherwise competent statesman is gaslighted out of office, but vastly preferable when you consider how the republican system managed to produce Trump and any number of "permanent" senators and/or congressmen you couldn’t trust to tie their own shoelaces.

I don’t think you get to fix The Swamp before you get 90% of the US citizenry to give enough of a damn to make rational and critical choices at the polls.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TFG says:

Re: Re:

I’ve never liked either party.

However, the problem with the "both parties are bad!" argument is that ignores a very critical element:

The GOP, as it exists right now, is just so much worse. As much as I dislike what the Democratic Party does in terms of things like this the GOP is just that much farther down the line of things I cannot support.

NoahVail (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Say what now? Thought the GOP fancied itself the ‘party of personal responsibility’, the idea that the way to fix them is to go after the other party seems like a shifting of responsibilities.

PrepStep1: Ignore party talking points. I mean really ignore them. Yes, even if it means letting go an opportunity to attack.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I understand the point you’re making, but I’m going to try to make what I think Noah’s point is, in a way that is non-crazy. I don’t know if this is what he meant, but it’s one interpretation that isn’t that bad:

There is plenty of evidence that the Democratic Party has significant problems, including corruption, insiderism, and often seems more concerned with holding power than doing the right thing (the Republican Party has all of this too). The issue is that the GOP has, for better or worse, been able to leverage each of those failings against the DNC in a manner that (rightly or wrongly) has made it so many, many people do not trust the DNC, and view them as politicians who don’t actually care about serving the public.

In my view, both parties have this issue, and there are many DNC politicians who do care and do want to serve, but many who have significant baggage and are focused on power or corrupt reasons.

If it were possible for the party to actually get rid of that element, then it would be much more appealing to a larger group of people. And, in turn, would lead to elective victories that might push the GOP towards more reasonable positions themselves. As it is, the cronyism in the DNC has been a massive weakness that the GOP has long exploited.

So, the short version: the problems of the DNC allow the GOP’s problems to fester.

Not sure I agree beyond the fact that I’d prefer both parties cleaned up their acts and got rid of the cronyism and political game playing and focused on doing what’s right for society.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"PSA: The path to a better GOP lies thru de-corrupting the DNC."

That makes no sense what so ever. You could turn every member of the admittedly corrupt DNC into living saints but all that’d do would have the current GOP try to redefine "decency" to retain their narrative of being the sole defenders of Truth, Justice, and the White American Way. Very Fine People, indeed.

ECA (profile) says:

Not a conspiracy.

IT was mentioned long ago, about a certain way that the FBI/CIA uses our system.
2 things from the past

  1. they Do have a Satellite, that can monitor most radio signals.. its been up there for years. Dont know how updated it is..
  2. That the 2 have this great idea. That insted of dealing with USA laws, that going to another country, lets them deny, and obfuscate anything they really want to do. As the USA would have no controls, and very little legal standing.

With that in mind, how hard would it be to setup, outside our country, a server farm to monitor Specific persons and locations?
And would be a great way to tell us that CHINA DID IT.. When we see all these server break-in’s around the USA at what seem to be random locations.. Allot of them seem to be medical, if you ever looked.
But this could also fit in with the Corps doing the same thing to the USA citizens..

Lets just backdoor Everything.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

When your actions shoot your words in the back

"We care about the public!"

"Here’s a way to protect them from baseless invasions of privacy."

"… nah, hard pass on that."

Nice of them to provide solid, irrefutable proof that they’ve been lying through their teeth any time they claims that they cared about the public’s privacy or rights, or that they’ve decided to sell the public out in exchange for something they consider more valuable down the line(which would just show them to not care for the public and be incredibly stupid).

Koby (profile) says:

What It Would Take

would leap at the chance to stop Trump and the FBI from conducting warrantless searches of Americans’ internet browsing habits.

The cynic in me says that no amount of logic is going to fix the problem, certainly not with back-room political insiders manipulating the legislative process behind the scenes. But this gives me an idea. What we REALLY need is for Congress to investigate the FBI, find some abuses that personally affect the members of Congress through warrantless spying, and then that will turn the Congressional reps into victims. Finally, they would be motivated with a combined impeach Trump + fix the U.S. domestic spying problem such that a few political cronies would be unable to stand in the way.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What It Would Take

I find it interesting that Masnick would say "stop Trump and the FBI from conducting…" as if they’re even remotely on the same team.

If the past 4 years proves nothing else, it’s that the FBI is at war with Trump. In no way, shape, or form can they be said to be on the same side.

The only reason it doesn’t appear to be as serious as what I said (a war) is that, so far, the shots fired from the White House have been sporadic, weak, and ineffectual. For some reason POTUS hasn’t responded with overwhelming force.

Maybe the Feebs have some JE Hoover-style blackmail material, but it’s inexplicable to the general public why he hasn’t used the full force of his office to rip the FBI apart branch and root, disbanded and fired huge swathes of them, pulled all their security clearances from the ones given their walking papers, and generally put them on ice. They’re part of the executive branch, and he’s the chief executive. He should be giving them a well-deserved thrashing.

Almost all of the FBI leadership and many (very many, it turns out) of the rank and file have proven themselves unworthy of being called ‘law enforcement’.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: What It Would Take

"The cynic in me says that no amount of logic is going to fix the problem, certainly not with back-room political insiders manipulating the legislative process behind the scenes."

You should listen, I think. The way the republic is constructed it’s a self-reinforcing buffer structure. The odd group of senators or congressmen – or even president – really aren’t supposed to be able to easily change it. What you need is a massive and consistent pressure forcing change through that structure.

That means change will come once enough US citizens care enough to make informed choices about their representative candidates, apply sufficient pressure, and take their final choice to the ballots. Because until you’ve gotten over half of the current pseudo-permanent members of congress replaced with ones who know their next election hangs on their ability to make visible changes you aren’t getting anywhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

It would be much better to harshly enforce ethical requirements.

Because, of course, (1) It worked so well on drug pushers, and (2) enforcements always work best on the most-powerful criminals!

Best start with ethical people. If you can’t find them, train them. Start with yourself for practice.

Anything else is rampant proceduralism: good for entrenched bureaucrats, but otherwise bad for … um, just stop at "bad".

Anonymous Coward says:

If they push through with this I GRANTEE it’ll backfire most splendidly. They are considering giving more power to a politicized DOJ with an Attorney General who has RECENTLY proven he is willing to intervene on behalf of Trump when he’s being investigated and more than willing to go after his political enemies.

If these representatives/senators ever say or do anything that Trump dislikes well, use your imagination.

Bruce C. says:

Politics and the FBI

It looks like they’re not even trying to hide it anymore. Both parties think they can use the FBI and Justice department for political gain, and so they strive to give it as much power as possible. That way, whoever controls the Justice Department has a powerful stick to use against their enemies. The major parties are just self-perpetuating power grabbing machines.

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