NSA Reform: Do You Support The Lesser Of Two Evils, Or Hope For Something Better?

from the not-a-good-situation dept

We wrote yesterday about Congress suddenly lurching forward with two competing NSA reform bills: the USA Freedom Act from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and the House Judiciary Committee and the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act from Reps. Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger and the House Intelligence Committee. As we noted, the USA Freedom Act -- which had been the general consensus choice as the best bill for actually stopping the worst of the worst NSA surveillance (while still not fixing everything) -- was actually being watered down by Sensenbrenner's manager's amendment.

Marcy Wheeler has been digging in and highlighting just how badly the bill has been weakened, and has now started calling it the USA Freedumb Act, noting that it's stripped out nearly all of the good stuff, basically wiping out most of the protections for you and me, but making sure that the telcos are well protected from any lawsuits that might emerge over them handing all of our info over to the government. The bill also wipes out the transparency requirements that the tech companies had pushed strongly for.

The problem then, becomes something of a political one. One of these two bills is likely to move forward, and both are pretty bad at this point, though USA Freedom is marginally better. Do you support a marginally better bill in the hopes of blocking a really bad bill? Or do you hope (with little chance of it happening) to block both bills and pray for a magical third solution that actually does something useful? It's a pretty blech situation all around.

One of the tricky parts of bills like these, which adjust the language in existing bills, is that merely reading the bills alone isn't nearly enough, because they're amending existing language, and pointing to various places. You have to put it all together to figure out what's really going on. Wheeler, again serving a tremendously important role, is attempting to do that, showing how Section 215 would look under the manager's amendment under USA Freedom. This suggests that a big problem is the lack of some key definitions -- with "selection term" being one which might actually create a loophole for the NSA to drive a surveillance barge through.

One hopeful idea is that during tomorrow's markup, someone can actually get some amendments through that actually defines these undefined terms in a way that actually limits the NSA's powers (and potentially bringing back some of the transparency requirements). Right now it's not clear if that will happen, though there's typical political horse trading going on in the back rooms. Still, a good definition (and there's a chance that any definition would be bad...) would go a long way towards taking the USA Freedumb Act back to being the USA Freedom Act.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 1:13pm

    Wow. This is disgusting.

     

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    Mega1987 (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 1:29pm

    3rd option needed!!!

    Damn... both reforms means bad news for the common people while it benefited those who are in power....


    it's so ugh!!!!

    damn it.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 6:58am

      Re: 3rd option needed!!!

      Seems like complete repeal of the patriot act should be the #1 priority of the American electorate in the next election cycle.

       

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    John Fenderson (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 1:30pm

    Nope

    I can't support either bill as I understand them right now. The difference in evil level between them doesn't seem to be large enough to even choose based on a "lesser evil" standard.

    These bills are just further evidence that the government is either incapable of fixing this problem or is so corrupt that it doesn't even recognize that there's a problem (beyond PR). My already incredibly low opinion of Congress has fallen a few more points. They really do seem to hold the American people in deep contempt.

     

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      Pragmatic, May 7th, 2014 @ 9:14am

      Re: Nope

      Well we've been content to choose between bad or worse when electing them to office. It's our own fault for not being willing to stick our necks out and vote third party instead of being afraid that the bad guys might get in by default.

      It means knocking on doors and spreading your views left, right, and center because it's true that one vote won't do much but one hundred might. A thousand certainly will.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 10:00am

        Re: Re: Nope

        The problem is mathematically inherit in the voting system really. It falls into the unfortunate category of being hard to reform (Constitutional amendment probably) and one that they have selfish incentives to stay a duopoly.

        A second constitutional convention could solve that and other issues but, well good luck achieving it. Even ignoring the logistical challenges that would arise. People have tried and failed for literal centuries due to needing two thirds of the state legislatures to call for it. It would be interesting to see the many proposals that would appear. Amending it is rightfully hard and calls for 3/4ths of the states approving it.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 1:33pm

    we are expected to put our asses on the line, just when it suits. it's about time some of those WE PAY to put their asses on the line instead and do so FOR US! get the amendments agreed and add back in what the idiots have lobbied for to be taken out! it's ok when it doesn't affect them! try being this side for a change!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 1:39pm

    Throw out both bills with everyone who weakened them.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 1:50pm

    Why not the ultimate evil: Satan? At least he has a zero tolerance policy for traitors like those in Congress.

     

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    Digger, May 6th, 2014 @ 1:57pm

    NSA = Treasonous Traitors

    The damage that the NSA has done to the public with their illegal, unconstitutional antics is what makes it treason.

    As such, during times of conflict, they should all be lined up and executed.

    We could solve the national debt by selling tickets to be one of the gun-holders for each execution, we'd rake in trillions.

     

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    Andrew, May 6th, 2014 @ 2:03pm

    On Wednesday, May 7, 2014 the U.S. House will consider amendments to NSA reform which would extend the duration of existing controversial programs. The little noticed changes, in Title VII of the Manager's Amendment to the USA Freedom Act, would continue existing controversial programs.

    The bill reads "Section 102(b)(1) of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorizatin Act of 2005 is amended by striking June 1, 2015 and inserting December 31, 2017."
    The full markup may be found here:http://judiciary.house.gov/index.cfm/2014/5/markup-of-h-r-3361-the-usa-freedom-act

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 3:05pm

      Re:

      On Wednesday, May 7, 2014 the U.S. House will consider amendments to NSA reform which would extend the duration of existing controversial programs. The little noticed changes, in Title VII of the Manager's Amendment to the USA Freedom Act, would continue existing controversial programs.

      The bill reads "Section 102(b)(1) of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorizatin Act of 2005 is amended by striking June 1, 2015 and inserting December 31, 2017."
      The full markup may be found here:http://judiciary.house.gov/index.cfm/2014/5/markup-of-h-r-3361-the-usa-freedom-act


      I think the goal there is to line up the expiration of the PATRIOT Act with the FAA reauth as well. I don't think it's "little noticed." Plenty of discussion on it. Agree that it's better to have the reauth come up sooner, but there are a lot bigger fish to fry than that right now...

       

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        Andrew, May 6th, 2014 @ 8:30pm

        Re: Re:

        Reauthorization of the Patriot Act is a big deal, because they know they don't have the votes. Sneaking it in under a popular bill is the only way they see to get it done.

        More importantly, the Patriot Act needs to be reformed. Extending the bill you are seeking to fix isn't the right answer at all.

         

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          John Fenderson (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 8:35am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "the Patriot Act needs to be reformed"

          If by "reformed" you mean "allowed to die", then I agree with you.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 9:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The only reform I'd agree to is to damn the original patriot by making an act completely and utterly opposite in the same name. It not only needs to be destroyed but buried so deeply with good laws to prevent it that it can never happen again.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 2:07pm

    I knew privacy would come down to technological means, not political means.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 2:14pm

    The Stasi is here to stay folks. Best buckle up, we are in for one hell of a ride.

    "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it."

    Abraham Lincoln
    First Inaugural Address
    Monday, March 4, 1861

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 2:52pm

    Anybody here in Sensenbrenner's district

    CALL AND LOBBY LIKE HELL TO KILL THESE CHANGES

     

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 2:53pm

    A bill I would support...

    would say simply that:

    The NSA can collect information on specific targets when they can articulate a reasonable suspicion in front of an adversarial advocate.

    The CIA can go back to covert surveilance in foreign lands and stop the torture and dentention crap.

    The FBI will take a focus on white collar and civil rights violations by police along with government corruption, and leave IP to the civil courts, and will forget that NSL's ever existed, except as a history lesson on how not to conduct a democorepubli society.




    I am dreaming again, aren't I?

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 3:01pm

    stay tuned

    Seems like there's some negotiating and horse trading going on behind the scenes... by tomorrow, the USA Freedom Act may be better than the initial manager's amendment... we'll see.

     

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      Andrew, May 6th, 2014 @ 8:28pm

      Re: stay tuned

      Anything would be better than the monstrosity the bill has been turned in to, so that is saying nothing at all. The bill has lost a lot of credibility.

       

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    johnvanvliet (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 3:52pm

    the lesser of two...

    Lets just get it over with
    " Cthulhu for President "
    when you are sick and tired of choosing between the lesser of two Evils , CHOOSE THE GREATEST EVIL.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 6:17am

    Neither of the two...

    After enough time passes and they do nothing, the US Government will be goading the Citizenry into open revolt.

    Should this happen, the entire electorate(citizens) may opt to execute every Politician that tries to fight back with force.

    Look at how ever revolution starts... tell people how the US Government is not on the very same track?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 6:50am

    I support putting members of the government, including congressional leaders, on trial for treason followed by swift execution when they are found guilty of violating the constitution and not upholding their oath to protect it.

     

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    cubicleslave (profile), May 7th, 2014 @ 9:30am

    How about one step further towards real reform... don't reauth the Patriot Act, and defund and eliminate Dept. of Homeland Security. Getting rid of ineffectual DHS would make me and alot of other concerned citizens feel MUCH more secure.
    Between the NSA and DHS, our elected officials better get their act together.

     

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    GEMont, May 7th, 2014 @ 7:03pm

    Fudd's third law - what comes in, must go out

    I don't think it matters at all any more, as far as legislation designed to limit the excesses of a government that works against the public's interest, in secret, using a set of secret laws and secret interpretations of laws to allow it to break the law legally.

    The NSA CAN spy on everyone and thus the NSA, (or some off-shoot and even more secret agency), WILL spy on everyone. You might as well get that through your heads right now.

    They WILL SPY because they CAN SPY.

    All the legislation being paraded before the public eye is nothing more than a smoke screen intended to get public confidence back - to sooth the sheep. There is no way the fed will allow this wondrous tool to languish simply because the enemy of the state - the public - demands it.

    The ability to know what your enemies and allies are doing in real time is something that no government/religion/crime-organization can resist dreaming about. Once accomplished it can never be undone and no secretive organization would consider doing without it thereafter, regardless of "public" outcry, or legislation outlawing its practice.

    If the NSA gets "limited" in its ability to spy legally on the US and foreign public - "the adversary" - through some new legislation, then that simply means that the stuff they are no longer allowed to do, is being done by some other agency nobody knows about, or by the CIA or the HLS.

    This cat can never be put back into the bag. Never.

    The only recourse is public security - open source software made specifically to protect the public's computers, communications and records, from the organizations that wish to use it for their own ends illegally, including the Federal Government.

    As industry has sprung up around the foot of the Fed to make spying on the public electronically easier and more fun for the Fed, so too shall industry rise from the ranks of the public to counteract the very real threat the Federal Government has become, as well as the other criminal threats that have been aided in their efforts by the active anti-security activity of the Fed.

    Know your enemy.

     

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    Eddie (profile), May 10th, 2014 @ 7:04am

    Internet Privacy

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    Our VPN service changes your IP address every 10 minutes and our DigitalSafe is a "Swiss Bank" for your data!
    Securing digital data, one computer at a time...
    www.americansrighttoprivacy.com

     

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