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.

Filed Under: bulk data collection, dianne feinstein, nsa, patrick leahy, privacy, saxby chambliss, senate, surveillance, surveillance reform, susan collins, usa freedom act


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  • icon
    Andrew Norton (profile), 18 Nov 2014 @ 5:14pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 5:26pm

    Meh, if the status quo means bulk metadata collection dies in June then I can live with that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 5:32pm

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 5:42pm

    My question is why we haven't been hearing anything at all about the upcoming Patriot Act renewal vote?

    http://rare.us/story/the-u-s-senate-is-about-to-reauthorize-the-patriot-act-and-no-one-is-talking-ab out-it/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 5:53pm

      Re:

      Uhm, this WAS the PATRIOT renewal vote. Now whether they will attempt to pass it again with/out the subterfuge is another question.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mike Masnick (profile), 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:02pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:15pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Mike, I realize you're in the 'it's better than nothing' camp but I'm sure you can understand that alot of us who read Techdirt saw the extension as a poison pill. And why bother debating them together if the debate we had today on bulk metadata was complete DERP?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:11pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 19 Nov 2014 @ 7:55am

      Re:

      did you mean the Citizen's Initiative for Neck-Stretching Kongresskritters Act ? ? ?
      i believe that is coming up for renewal real soon now...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:13pm

    When ISPs want to say how many NSLs they have received each year, they can't because releasing this information would help the terrorists. When Dianne Feinstein wants to say how many times searches have been run in the last year, why go right ahead, Senator!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 10:42pm

      Re:

      Quick question fro those Americans int he audience; does the SEnate have something like the UK's Parliamentary Privilege, where something mentioned on the floor must be free from current consequences?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous, 18 Nov 2014 @ 11:50pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Edward Teach, 19 Nov 2014 @ 8:12am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:24pm

    A vote on whether or not to have a vote????

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:30pm

    Politician naivete

    (Oh, yeah, right, "288 'selectors.'" Each of which selected an average of a mere 25 million people, no doubt.)

    But, just curious, did anyone here expect the politicians to do something brilliant?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zem, 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:33pm

    Regardless of the contents of the proposed act is was doomed to fail. In the modern world where Orwellian speak is the norm, if it has been titled USA Slavery Act, it would have been passed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Avery, 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:33pm

    Techdirt did fantastic reporting on this bill all the way through to its ignominious conclusion. I would give you Flattr kudos except I find that website highly dodgy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 6:54pm

    I remember the last time they used "B-b-but terrorism!" and got their way.

    Then ISIS happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 7:13pm

    Selectors?

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Nov 2014 @ 8:00pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 8:34pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        art guerrilla (profile), 19 Nov 2014 @ 8:03am

        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...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Pragmatic, 24 Nov 2014 @ 5:26am

        Re: Re:

        Where the hell is the "Sad but true" button?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    got_runs? (profile), 18 Nov 2014 @ 8:34pm

    >

    No one spies on you to protect you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), 18 Nov 2014 @ 10:18pm

    Wow they really have no idea how all this stuff works.
    I feel less synical given they seem to lack basic knowledge about the matter.

    Perhaps this debate was helpful since it shows us where the NSA has been misleading them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    F.J. Bergmann (profile), 19 Nov 2014 @ 5:30am

    threshold

    While requiring voters to prove that they understand the issues they're voting on may be inappropriate, I don't see why those running for office shouldn't have to pass a reading comprehension test to be eligible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2014 @ 5:47am

    What a sham of a congress.......except to those who had the courage to say something, real heroes im begining to realise

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2014 @ 6:53am

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2014 @ 7:12am

    Not to be too terribly contrarian, but, Mike, isn't this the generally disliked, watered-down bill into which, if it had gone forward, Harry Reid was going to stick a provision making streaming a felony...

    And it's not a good thing that a vote moving it forward failed?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 19 Nov 2014 @ 8:02am

    It's not the number of searches

    She also kept insisting that it wasn't being abused because there were only "288" searches last year on that data.


    This neatly dodges the point yet again. The issue isn't the number of searches. The issue is that the collection itself is an abuse. This would be true even if it was never searched.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2014 @ 8:07am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2014 @ 8:18am

    i wonder what Chambliss would say if there 'were only 22 people' who had access to his bank account or/and personal data? the man's an idiot! and whoever the hell votes these people in are equally as idiotic!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2014 @ 9:39am

    This name is still hilarious.
    Why not USA FREEDOM EAGLE OF DEMOCRACY FUCK COMMUNISM GUN FOR EVERYONE Act?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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