New NSA Bill From House Intelligence Committee Aims To Head Off Future Challenges To Legality Of National Security Letters

from the assuring-no-standing-but-cutting-challenges-off-at-the-knee dept

When House Intelligence Committee ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger suggested replacing the NSA's bulk collections with something a bit more targeted, it was a little surprising. After all, this is the same man who has worked hand-in-hand with Mike Rogers to subject the NSA to as little oversight as possible over the last several years.

What he proposed sounded suspiciously like an old fashioned Pen Register, the sort of targeted call tracking that can easily be performed by any law enforcement/security agent. Julian Sanchez wondered why a new law was needed when one already on the books would suffice, provided it was scaled back from FISC judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's expansive interpretation.

Well, apparently the reason a new law was needed was to expand the NSA's powers, rather than contract them, contrary to the assertions of those pushing this legislation. As Mike noted on Tuesday, the bill aims to limit some aspects of the NSA's collections while simultaneously lowering the standards governing other collections. The bill dials back on "probable cause" and relies on "reasonable suspicion" only, while also eliminating the government's need to seek a warrant or court order to run a phone number for hits.

As Mike also noted, the full house bill hadn't been made public yet, so it was likely there were other tricks up the Rogers-Ruppersberger sleeve. Sure enough, Marcy Wheeler, who has done an amazing job digging up dirt in nearly every NSA-related document over the last several months, has indeed uncovered another small gift to the surveillance state in the "fake fix" bill.

Here's the wording:

If the judge determines that such petition consists of claims, defenses, or other legal contentions that are not warranted by existing law or consists of a frivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law, the judge shall immediately deny such petition and affirm the directive or any part of the directive that is the subject of the such petition and order the recipient to comply with the directive or any part of it.
And here's what that wording appears to be targeting:
I can’t help believing much of this bill was written with cases like Lavabit and the presumed Credo NSL challenges in mind, as it uses language disdainful of legal challenges.
This makes it that much more unlikely that challenging an order from the NSA will result in anything other than compliance by the entity on the receiving end. This strips away a little more of the facade the government portrays -- that those receiving national security letters and the like actually have any choice in the matter.

When the government demanded the SSL keys so it could access the data and communications of Ed Snowden's former email provider, Lavabit fought back. First, it closed down rather than be "complicit in crimes against the American people." Then the government dragged the provider to court to get the information it sought and Lavabit's lawyers fought back.

This is the way the system is supposed to work. Orders can be challenged, even if the chance of overturning them is microscopic. If this part of the bill goes through unaltered, judges will be granted the permission to simply shut down any petition they think seeks to challenge any aspect of the laws pertaining to the NSA's surveillance programs. It's the NSA's heckler's veto, granted by the House Intelligence Committee and delivered by judges who will be forbidden from respecting any challenges to the government's interpretation of these laws.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2014 @ 12:27am

    Supreme Court?

    I doubt the Supreme Court will be amused by attempts to bypass judges. Hopefully if they try this they'll and rule the entire NSA unconstitutional or something. One can dream anyway.

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