Late Friday, White House Announces That FISA Court Has Rubberstamped NSA Phone Record Collection, While Insisting It Wants Reform

from the uh-huh dept

As per its usual method of releasing news it would rather not talk about, on Friday evening the White House released the news that it had, once again, gotten a rubberstamp approval from the FISA Court for the NSA to collect in bulk basically all your phone records. As you probably know, this is just the latest in a long series of reapprovals by the FISA Court, which needs to reauthorize the program for limited periods of time each time the previous rubber stamp "expires." What hasn't made much sense in all of this is that President Obama announced a year ago that he wanted to end the bulk collection program, and as many people pointed out, there was an easy way to do so: just don't ask the FISA Court to renew the authority. But, rather than do that, the administration just keeps on asking (and getting) approval.

The excuse given in the released statement is that the White House wants Congress to force its hand to stop asking:
As the White House said [link to WH statement], the Administration welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Congress to implement the changes the President has called for. Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the telephony metadata program, the government has sought a reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President directed in January.
And, yes, the official announcement says "[link to WH statement]" -- because, hey, they're posting on Friday evening and might as well start the drinking early or something. It's not like this stuff matters. The rest of that claim is similarly misleading. The metadata program has not been shown to be important in any way. In fact, basically everyone who has looked at it from outside the intelligence community, including two separate government review bodies has admitted that there aren't any examples of the program actually being useful. So, it's hard to see what's so "important" about it.

But, really, this is all ridiculous. This is the same White House that is getting criticized all over the place for a variety of moves to take "executive action" where Congress is deadlocked. And, yet, here's a situation where literally the White House has all the power in the world to stop the program it claims it wants stopped -- and it says it needs Congress to act? That's not even close to believable.

The one "noteworthy" aspect to this latest rubberstamping is the end date. The newly approved authority runs until June 1, 2015, which is the date at which Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act sunsets and would no longer be law. This program exists under Section 215, so the government can't continue to collect those phone records after June 1, unless something happens. That "something" is the renewal of Section 215, and you better believe that the next few months are going to be a full on fight by the intelligence community and its supporters to spread as much fear as possible about why this program absolutely must be renewed. As you hear the scare stories, just remember that despite using this program for almost a decade there still isn't a single example of it being useful.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 4:58am

    Prove it

    and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the telephony metadata program

    Each and every time they trot out that tired old lie, people and the press need to respond with a simple 'According to what evidence.?' Because to date, they haven't provided so much as a scrap of evidence showing how important their precious program is at stopping any real threats, or that it has even done so.

    Wanting all the data they can scoop up is very different than needing all the data they can scoop up, and while they've certainly shown the first, they have yet to show evidence for the second.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 5:55am

    Classic Play...

    Tell public one thing... do something else and hope they don't find out. It's not like they are expecting to be punished for it... Since when was the last time America punished their reps for shit like this?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 6:29am

    Another situation where right and wrong gets trumped by what's legal.

    I can see FISA getting renewed because for all the scrutiny the FISA court gets, the intelligence community is getting what they want from it, and how can anyone prove that a court meeting in secret is doing anything wrong? As long as the FISA court approves the request it's like, totally legit, amitrite guys?

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

  • identicon
    David, 2 Mar 2015 @ 6:33am

    You bet it is important!

    The metadata program has not been shown to be important in any way. In fact, basically everyone who has looked at it from outside the intelligence community, including two separate government review bodies has admitted that there aren't any examples of the program actually being useful. So, it's hard to see what's so "important" about it.

    Do you want ten thousands of hardened criminals from the NSA out of a job and loitering in the streets?

    Do you want dozens of billions of dollars currently sunk into data processing centers and illegal taps suddenly regurgitate into the economy and driving inflation?

    And of course the worst consequence of losing the "metadata collection program" is that it is sort-of pretend-legal and thus serves as a pretend-excuse for siphoning off all the data. Because the money poured into taps and processing centers is quite out of proportion with regard to "metadata". But does not have a proper legal front of its own.


    As you hear the scare stories, just remember that despite using this program for almost a decade there still isn't a single example of it being useful.

    Now you are being unfair. They caught some guy sending a few thousand to a bad organization in Somalia.

    If one hears you moping, one would believe that the trillions of dollars were not spent well.

    Oh, and they did not just catch a bad guy sending money to Somalia but also were able to sabotage climate conferences.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 7:10am

      Re: You bet it is important!

      "Oh, and they did not just catch a bad guy sending money to Somalia but also were able to sabotage climate conferences."

      Two birds with one stone. How's that for "bang for the buck"!

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

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 7:10am

    Just what I thought...

    Ever since Obama reversed his opposition to FISA as Senator, I have always believed that the (in)security services had something to hold over him, hence his behavior about the data collection practices of the services (NSA/CIA/FBI, et al) ever since. In every other respect, he has been a reasonably decent POTUS. In this one, he has been abysmal!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:07am

      Re: Just what I thought...

      "Ever since Obama reversed his opposition to FISA as Senator, I have always believed that the (in)security services had something to hold over him"

      The people who run a nation's intelligence-gathering agencies tend to have inordinate power.

      It's now known that FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover tapped telephones, dug up dirt, and kept files on every political leader that came to office during his half-century-long tenure, and not surprisingly, no one ever dared oppose him. That Obama has failed to rein in the NSA's abuses is probably no different than numerous presidents failing to rein in Hoover's FBI abuses.

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

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:26am

      Re: Just what I thought...

      Would a "reasonably decent POTUS" really:
      - Not end the war on drugs
      - Not close gitmo as promised
      - Not be transparent as promised
      - Fullfill the wishes of the MAFIAA
      - Wage a war on whistleblowers
      - Have people assassinated
      - Have people tortured
      - Have the whole world put under surveillance
      - Allow everyone and his neighbor to frack below other peoples land

      The list goes on and on.

      The only "decent" things I can find is that he really seemed to be trying the get Americans a decent healthcare system, and the he killed off some weird pipeline. But being a bit social and a bit eco-friendly doesn't really cut it against being a fascist.

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

      • identicon
        Pragmatic, 3 Mar 2015 @ 4:34am

        Re: Re: Just what I thought...

        You called it right, Seegras. He's thrown a little red meat to the base but deep down, he seems to be a neocon.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 7:40am

    They want reform...

    ...just not the reform we want.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 7:44am

    As per its usual method of releasing news it would rather not talk about, on Friday evening


    I'm pretty sure the government likes to release stuff on Friday afternoons in general. News, new regulations, etc., not just embarrassing news.

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

  • identicon
    Rudyard Holmbast, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:09am

    Hey, I have an idea. Why don't we get together a bunch of bloggers to endlessly complain about how horrible one unelected government bureaucracy is while, at the same time, pretending that another government bureaucracy overstepping its bounds is totally fucking awesome because, like, totally, it can be trusted to only act with a "light touch".

    Oh, wait, that has already happened.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:59am

      Re:

      Of course, because clearly a government agency spying on americans and grabbing every bit of their data they can get their hands on is exactly like another government agency putting into place rules to if not eliminate, at least lesson cable company fuckery(and thanks to John Oliver for such a catchy, and accurate way of putting it).

      /s

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      Found the cable company shill.

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

  • icon
    MarcAnthony (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:54am

    Lip service

    the Administration welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Congress to implement the changes the President has called for.

    As soon as Congress’ perspective aligns with the President’s vision of “change,” the two will come together in harmony—just as the founders envisioned checks and balances working. Never mind that warrantless surveillance and secret courts in which you have no representation are highly unlawful on their face; the appearance that we have an open, functional government must be maintained.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:02am

    I do hope...

    ...these FISC Jurists might be finding it difficult to get service at their local restaurants.

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

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:15am

    Translation

    As the White House said [link to WH statement], the Administration welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Congress to implement the changes the President has called for. Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the telephony metadata program, the government has sought a reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President directed in January.

    So what he's saying is he doesn't want to end the current bulk collection program until he can work out a deal with Congress to authorize a new program that does the same thing with a different name?

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

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:03am

    I'm not a native speaker so I might be mistaken, but it appears to me that the situation is, in short:
    President continues with illegal mass spying program to force parliament to take action,
    while the party controlling parliament is in favour of continuing that program.

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 12:05pm

      Re:

      President continues with illegal mass spying program to force parliament to take action,
      while the party controlling parliament is in favour of continuing that program.


      That sounds about right to me.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:09am

    Such a wasted opportunity...

    As the White House said [link to WH statement], the Administration welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Congress to implement the changes the President has called for

    I know both parties fully support government spying, and would sooner vote collectively to link their pay to the current minimum wage than agree to end mass spying, but I can't help but think how funny it would be if they called his bluff here, and crafting a bill or two designed to destroy the programs in place.

    Watching the WH panic and desperately backpedal, and start calling for extensive 'studies' and 'examinations' before shutting down the programs would be pretty hilarious.

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

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:44pm

      Re: Such a wasted opportunity...

      1 party 2 faces. if they were 2 separate parties I would think they would not both be racing to the bottom of the barrel to turn citizens into indentured slaves with no rights or liberties

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

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 7:59am

        I've made this observation before, but it bears repeating:

        DNC: Pro-pot, pro-torture, pro-mass-surveillance, pro-police state.

        GOP: Pro-gun, pro-torture, pro-mass-surveillance, pro-police state.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 11:18am

          Re: I've made this observation before, but it bears repeating:

          Makes me wish Libertarians hadn't turned into Objectivists. Or maybe they always were, and I was just a dumb kid who didn't look close enough.

          Your observation, in any event, reminds me of an old Doonesbury (which I can't find anywhere on the 'net). Let's just say the punchline was along the lines of "Libertarians? They want the guns, the pot, and hookers, too."

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:52am

    What hasn't made much sense in all of this is that President Obama announced a year ago that he wanted to end the bulk collection program, and as many people pointed out, there was an easy way to do so: just don't ask the FISA Court to renew the authority. But, rather than do that, the administration just keeps on asking (and getting) approval.

    It makes perfect sense: Obama lied. What's so hard to understand?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:23am

      Re:

      What's so hard to understand?
      The absence of a crowd of villagers with pitchforks and torches at the White House gates.

      Oh, wait, neither party actually wants reform, and their constituents are all so partisan that they're afraid to question the actions of their own representatives. Never mind, you're right. This is depressingly easy to understand.

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

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 1:25pm

        Re: Re:

        "their constituents are all so partisan that they're afraid to question the actions of their own representatives."

        This seems an unlikely explanation, since most of the members of either party are not actually as partisan as this implies. I interpret it a bit differently: I think that most people fall into one or two categories.

        One (the largest group) is the people who just want to live their lives and have their hands full doing so. They don't have the time or energy to put into politics except when there's an issue that they perceive directly and immediately harms them.

        The other is a very large group of people who believe that they are powerless and that nothing they can do will actually make anything better. They've given up.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 3:10pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yeah, I should have restricted my criticism to the not-necessarily-representative sample space of people willing to comment publicly on internet discussion boards.

          My experiences are skewed, but honestly, I've seen Trevor Timm being roundly accused of being a Republican shill merely for writing articles at the Guardian questioning President Obama's security state and persecution of whistleblowers.

          It's a bit depressing.

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

        • identicon
          Pragmatic, 3 Mar 2015 @ 4:37am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The authoritarians are counting on that. The tree of liberty can also be watered with sweat. What is wrong with us that we give up if we don't get what we want right this minute?

          They are determined to lock us down but we need to be more determined to hold them to account.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:09am

    Their just gonna go ahead and do whatever the fuck they want

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 5:34pm

    Im SHOCKED i tell ya SHOCKED

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:38pm

    was anyone here foolish enough to believe them?

    They tell you what you want to hear then do what they want. I would have though after the first 2 dozen times people would have smartened up.

    If Obama's mouth is open good chance he is lying. Just like every other politician that says one thing then does the opposite. Only We should criticize Obama more because he is your current president, and speaks for your nation

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


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