These Clueless Politicians Are The Ones Determining If The NSA Gets To Keep Spying On All Of Us

from the we-deserve-better dept

On Thursday, the 2nd Circuit appeals court delivered a huge win for people who believe in the 4th Amendment and civil liberties, even if the court didn't make it all the way to a 4th Amendment analysis. It still showed that the big metadata collection program that the NSA (and its defenders) claim is authorized by Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act clearly was not so authorized. The law is pretty clear that you can't do what the NSA is doing, but thanks to an ever-compliant rubber-stamp-wielding FISA Court, the program got a quick rubber stamp with little real thought. However, that's now changing (thanks to Ed Snowden...).

But the really incredible thing has been the reaction to this ruling by the politicians who are about to vote on surveillance reform. The claims are so ridiculous and so wrong that it makes you wonder how the hell these are the people in charge of determining the future of NSA surveillance. Let's start with Senator John McCain. Rather than discuss the specific reasoning in the ruling and the failures of the NSA and Congress that the case pointed out, McCain went with the kneejerk "But 9/11!" response even though it makes absolutely no sense at all in this context:
“It’s pretty clear that 9/11 could have been prevented if we had known about some of the communications that were linked to those who committed the terrible atrocity of 9/11.”

McCain added that the government has to balance that capacity with privacy and admitted that it has overstepped from “time to time.” While he called for a public debate to come to an agreement that balances privacy with security, he said it’s integral that Americans “understand” the threat.

“People seem to have forgotten 9/11,” he said.

“People don’t understand that there are thousands of young people all over the world who are motivated by this radical brand of Islam, which is our enemy.”
First of all, no, 9/11 would not have been prevented if this info had been available. While some have claimed that such a program would have allowed officials to track a phone call from Khalid al-Midhar, that story has since been debunked, as it was noted that federal officials were already tracking such info -- they just failed to put the information together in time. Meanwhile, as for all these repeats of "9/11, 9/11," it's worth remembering that even the leaders of the 9/11 Commission have said the surveillance program goes too far.

And, of course, none of that touches on what was actually in the ruling itself, which makes a really strong argument as to why the bulk phone records program is bogus and a violation of the 4th Amendment (no, it doesn't go all the way there, but lays all the groundwork for such a ruling). And, really, it's incredibly hypocritical to argue that because of an attack 14 years ago, we should completely give up our fundamental Constitutional freedoms. Is McCain seriously arguing that a single terrorist attack should wipe out the 4th Amendment?

Next up on the parade of cluelessness: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who not only continues to defend the bulk phone records collection, but is more adamant than ever that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act must be renewed to keep that program going -- even though the court just clearly said that the law does not authorize such a program. But, even worse, McConnell still doesn't seem to understand even the most basic facts about the program he thinks it's urgent to renew. His main complaint about the alternative "USA FREEDOM Act" is this:
"The USA Freedom Act would replace Section 215 with an untested, untried, and more cumbersome system. It would not end bulk collection of call data," McConnell said, referring to the provision of the Patriot Act that the NSA says justifies its bulk data sweeps. "Instead, it would have untrained corporate employees with uncertain supervision and protocols do the collecting. So it switches this responsibility from the NSA, with total oversight, to corporate employees with uncertain supervision and protocols.
Except, he's 100% wrong. As in totally wrong. The data he's talking about are the phone records that every phone company already has and already keeps for a certain period of time. The bulk phone records program just makes sure that the same info is also given to the NSA. So, get rid of the program and the same employees at the same telcos with the same experience and training will still have access to it. Nothing changes on that front, no matter what insane thing McConnell says.

But that also doesn't stop Senator Tom Cotton from making the same absolutely incorrect claim:
"One alternative offered by opponents of this program is to have phone companies retain control of all call data and provide the NSA only the data responsive to searches phone companies would run on the NSA's behalf. This is not technologically feasible."
Uh, sure it's technically feasible. It's how plenty of other programs already function.

Seriously: how are these the people voting on this?

Or how about Marco Rubio? He also plays the stupid, wrong, debunked "would have stopped 9/11 card":
"Here's the truth. If this program had existed before 9/11, it is quite possible that we would have known that the 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar was living in San Diego and making phone calls to an al-Qaida safehouse in Yemen. There's no guarantee we would have known. Theres no way we can go back in time and prove it, but there is a probability that we would have known and there's a probability that American lives could have been saved."
Except, as already noted above, that claim was debunked by multiple people, including in a detailed ProPublica piece.

Rubio also went further in misrepresenting the program:
"The next time that any politician—senator, congressman, talking head, whatever it may be—stands up and says that the U.S. government is listening to your phone calls or going through your phone records, they're lying. It just is not true."
Rubio is setting up a strawman here. No one is saying that they're listening to your calls or "going through" your phone records (though they are doing that for some people. But everyone (now) openly admits that the NSA collects those phone records -- and that's the thing people are concerned about.

Finally, we have Senator Richard Burr, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who's supposed to understand these programs. Yet he screwed up so badly that his office had to issue a correction and go back and literally rewrite the official transcript, after Burr claimed that the same program sucked up IP addresses in addition to phone numbers.

Either way, there's a lot of pure FUD going on out there right now, almost all of it in the service of trying to let the NSA keep its toys and continue to undermine the 4th Amendment. Don't let them get away with it.

But, even more importantly, people should be asking: why are we letting these idiots make the decision on this stuff when they either don't understand it or are outright lying to the American public?

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    cypherspace (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 4:15am

    At Least He's Honest

    "...It would not end bulk collection of call data," McConnell said, referring to the provision of the Patriot Act that the NSA says justifies its bulk data sweeps.
    The only time pols are thoroughly honest with us is when we're going to be screwed over.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 4:19am

    "One alternative offered by opponents of this program is to have phone companies retain control of all call data and provide the NSA only the data responsive to searches phone companies would run on the NSA's behalf. This is not technologically feasible."

    Is he claiming that no company can respond to a subpoena requesting records, and does this mean all company records should be given to the NSA?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 4:49am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on May 11th, 2015 @ 4:19am

      Given the government's track record for responding to records requests, it's easy to see how they would think this way.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 4:21am

    “It’s pretty clear that 9/11 could have been prevented if we had known about some of the communications that were linked to those who committed the terrible atrocity of 9/11.”

    No, 9/11 would've been prevented if your friend actually fucking did something to prevent it it instead of allowing it to happen anyway.

    “People seem to have forgotten 9/11,”

    No, we haven't forgotten because you keep bringing it up as a justification to surrender rights.

    “People don’t understand that there are thousands of young people all over the world who are motivated by this radical brand of Islam, which is our enemy.”

    That's not what you said about those so-called "moderates."

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2015 @ 2:41am

      Re:

      It's the politicians/talking-heads equivalent of a kid sticking his fingers in his ears and going "NAHNAHNAH I can't hear you!"
      "9/119/119/119/11 9/119/119/11!"

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

  • icon
    lucidrenegade (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 4:42am

    McCain has always been a warmonger, so I'm not surprised.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 4:48am

    Terrorist politicians.

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

  • identicon
    Agonistes, 11 May 2015 @ 4:54am

    Can you believe some people I know still mock me because I connect through a VPN 100% of the time with all devices and test it several times a week for DNS leaks and to see if my network killswitch responds quickly enough?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 5:02am

    This line of thinking could wipe out a lot of rights

    With this kind of thinking, we could erase the 4th amendment so that Big Brother can monitor all of our communications. We could wipe out the 1st amendment so that Big Brother could prevent further radicalization of others both with speech and religion. Then they could wipe out the 2nd amendment so the bad guys won't have guns. But as Thomas Jefferson said, more or less, I would rather be bothered by the problems of too much liberty than too little.

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 5:57am

      Re: This line of thinking could wipe out a lot of rights

      That. We are already seeing open attempts of destroying freedom of speech using the 'terrorism' bogeyman elsewhere. It's a bit more veiled in the US. As for the 2nd there are some people chewing the borders already blaming the tools for the crimes.

      We could erase or will erase?

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

      • identicon
        Joe Publius, 11 May 2015 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re: This line of thinking could wipe out a lot of rights

        The people should be angry when their legislator's best argument is fear.

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

        • identicon
          Joe Publius, 11 May 2015 @ 8:56am

          PS

          How did we get from, "the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself", to "the only thing we have to fear is terrorism, terrorism, terrorism"?

          It's a week late for this reference to be spot-on, but fear leads to the dark-side, and this might be a ground-zero moment right here.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 11:39am

            Re: PS

            I can tell you what happened. It isn't just that they knocked down a couple buildings. It is because they hit the Pentagon and were going for the White House or Capitol with the other plane. So it was a direct attack on heads of state. That is what has them scared. They and the media won't say it, but the pretend it is to protect us serfs. But they aren't scared for the serfs, they are scared fro themselves.

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

  • identicon
    David, 11 May 2015 @ 5:19am

    Nobody understands the court decision

    The court was not at all ruling on the constitutionality of the Patriot Act and Section 215: thats SCOTUS material.

    What the court said is that Patriot Act and Section 215 do not authorize the bulk surveillance the government is performing, and if it had been the Senate's intent to do this kind of mass surveillance, they should pass the respective decisions to do so.

    And given the bilateral hawks circling Congress, it is likely that this is just what they'll do. In the mean time they have the inconvenience that renewing Section 215, which the court has nothing against, will not serve as a legitimization of the ongoing bulk surveillance.

    So they need to man up and pass legislation that screws the (Re)public and the Constitution much more openly. And this manning up is just what they are doing.

    The problem with that is that it will make it more likely that those laws will not survive a test of constitutionality that is bound to come up eventually.

    The court decision here does not boil down to "stop your crimes". It merely is "stop lying about your crimes". Which is a first step towards getting them stopped, but that would be the job of SCOTUS. Or other people caring about the Constitution and the U.S.A. rather than their hide and power and pockets. So obviously not Congress.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 12:23pm

      Re: Nobody understands the court decision

      Technically it's possible to exempt from a constitutional challenge: the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.
      Tell the supreme court it can not rule on the constitutionality of the law, tell the low courts as well, since they are all created by acts of congress. At least they would be honest if they did that.

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

  • icon
    Rich Fiscus (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 5:24am

    Dear Senator McConnell,

    If you would stop wiping your ass with the Constitution for a few minutes and just read it, you would learn we've been "testing" this system for more than 200 years.

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

  • identicon
    Reality bites, 11 May 2015 @ 6:03am

    With massive amounts of data comes massive responsiblity

    It could be said that if you have all the data, then also the responsibility comes with it. If you know who the criminals are yet do nothing then you are as responsible as they are. You are either an accomplice or inept its one or the other.

    Perhaps its time for the victims of crime to start suing the government, since the government knows who is doing the crime and choose to do nothing they are equally responsible.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 6:08am

    Almost as wrong as the "PearlHarbor could have been prevented if...". Funny how a few decades later it turns out that they not only knew about the attack days before but they even sent in more ships to make it bigger.

    Its not about terrorism, its about spying on the plebs.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 6:40am

    Of course they are going through them

    There may not be any humans going through my phone records, but there is absolutely no doubt that there are algorithms going through those records, looking for any kind of pattern or sequence they can flag as suspicious.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 7:58am

      Re: Of course they are going through them

      We need to fight against the false idea (thanks a lot, Google) that if it's just a program looking at your information then it's not an invasion of privacy. It seems obvious, but too many people buy into it.

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

  • identicon
    Patrick Bay, 11 May 2015 @ 7:08am

    Vote harder!

    Obviously government is the solution and not the problem. Obviously.

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

  • identicon
    Agonistes, 11 May 2015 @ 7:17am

    I read somewhere this week that keystrokes that are typed into Facebook fields, even if not actually entered (via the enter key) are still captured even if you delete them and never actually send anything or enter other, different keystrokes. Now I don't know if that is true or not since I didn't look into it very hard (I, literally ((actually literally literally)), have never had a Facebook account) but I have no reason to doubt it. Just another intrusion to be aware of, and I'm sure FB isn't the only major name with the ability. I'd love it if anyone else also heard this and could point me towards the story if they know where it is, or a LMGTFY link even.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 8:09am

    Can someone explain to me how FUD is not the literal definition of terrorism?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 8:43am

      Re:

      FUD = Fucked Up Democracy.

      Though we are technically a Republic.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re:

        FUD is "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt."

        Terrorism is defined as:
        1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
        2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
        3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

        Going by definition 2, terrorize is defined as:
        1. to fill or overcome with terror.
        2. to dominate or coerce by intimidation.
        3. to produce widespread fear by acts of violence, as bombings.

        Going by definition 1, terror is defined as:
        1. intense, sharp, overmastering fear: to be frantic with terror.
        2. an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety; quality of causing terror: to be a terror to evildoers.
        3. any period of frightful violence or bloodshed likened to the Reign of Terror in France.
        4. violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion; terrorism.
        5. Informal. a person or thing that is especially annoying or unpleasant.


        So how is FEAR, Uncertainty and Doubt anything less than terrorism?
        And that's ignoring the first definition of terrorism which I believe our government is very well guilty of.

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

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 10:47am

          Re: Re: Re:

          So how is FEAR, Uncertainty and Doubt anything less than terrorism?

          Because FUD doesn't involve violence. At least not any usage of it that I've ever seen.

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

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 8:56am

        Re: Re:

        We are technically a combination of both.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 8:14am

    Maybe its a good thing we have lobbyist. Otherwise, these idiots wouldnt even remember to show up to vote.

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

  • identicon
    RD, 11 May 2015 @ 9:13am

    No, he is not

    "Is McCain seriously arguing that a single terrorist attack should wipe out the 4th Amendment?"

    No, he is seriously arguing that a single terrorist attack should wipe out *the constitution*

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

  • icon
    pouar (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 9:41am

    Even though McCain is a good person considering what he went through for America. He's obviously wrong about the NSA mass collection of private info doing anything to stop events like 9/11

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 9:59am

      Re:

      "Even though McCain is a good person considering what he went through for America."

      What a person has gone through says nothing about whether or not they are a good person. Their present-day actions speak to that. I don't know McCain and so I have no opinion on how "good" he is, but his presidential run did convince me that he is mentally unstable.

      Regardless of all that, he is 100% wrong on this particular issue.

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

  • icon
    HegemonicDistortion (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 10:03am

    McCain, McConnell, Miss Lindsey, Feinstein...

    The warmongers are the same as the fearmongers.

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

  • icon
    radix (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 10:17am

    Debunking "because terrorism"

    There are two fundamental aspects of the metadata programs, according to the NSA and its defenders:
    1) It would have stopped (and continues to stop) terrorism.
    2) Your data isn't being searched.

    Here's the biggest problem with those statements: they CAN'T both be true at the same time. It's physically impossible.

    In order to prevent an attack, data has to be analyzed in real time. If they are putting together a web of calls/emails/transactions before something happens, that necessarily means that an algorithm needs access to all those calls/emails/transactions.

    If your data isn't being searched, then it isn't part of that web, and simply pollutes the data set.

    The only reason your metadata needs to be collected is for post-incident investigation, so that it can't be destroyed and therefore become inaccessible even with a warrant. But that's not prevention.

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

  • icon
    Teamchaos (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 10:39am

    Non-partisan?

    From The Hill (http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/nsa/241511-pressure-mounts-as-congress-dives-into-nsa-f ight):

    Among those provisions, which will expire at the end of the month unless Congress acts, is Section 215, which the Obama administration has said authorizes the government to collect, in bulk, “metadata” records about millions of Americans’ phone calls.

    Let's give credit where credit is due, the republicans mentioned in this post are not the only idiots in Washington.

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

  • identicon
    That One Other Not So Random Guy, 11 May 2015 @ 12:45pm

    they just failed to put the information together in time.

    Just ask Sibel Edmonds how true it is they "failed to put the information together in time."

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 2:31pm

    Consider the target audience

    They're not speaking to the public when they make these claims and statements, they're speaking to their fellow congresscritters, hanging the threat of 'If you do away with our spying abilities, and something goes wrong, you're going to be blamed for it'(ignoring the fact that no matter what they do, if anything happens they'll still be blamed for it) over their heads in order to try and make them put self-interest over their responsibility towards the public.

    With few exceptions, no-one gets elected, especially multiple times, if they're an idiot, and while the claims may be complete and utter rot, the threat they imply is quite persuasive I imagine, given how insanely risk-averse politicians are.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2015 @ 3:34pm

    No, 9/11 couldn't be prevented because it was an inside job.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 11 May 2015 @ 4:31pm

    I wonder

    What happens when Politicians get paranoid of the people they are SUPPOSED to represent?
    We drop all the laws that were created for our freedoms..
    Laws are not used EQUALLY..
    A Society.. based on information, GETS no information.. And those that release ANY information end up in jail

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

  • identicon
    justme, 11 May 2015 @ 6:59pm

    The key point. . .

    Is McCain seriously arguing that a single terrorist attack should wipe out the 4th Amendment?

    There assertion is actually worse, That the very threat of a terrorist attack is enough to remove all our constitutional rights.

    seriously, what happened to, the right to a fair trial, the right to counsel, the presumption of innocent, being free from unwarranted search and seizure, the right to freely assemble and seek redress, etc.

    To me those are America!

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 11 May 2015 @ 10:31pm

    But, even more importantly, people should be asking: why are we letting these idiots make the decision on this stuff when they either don't understand it or are outright lying to the American public?


    Isn't that how the government operates on everything? They don't understand technology, but they vote on laws that govern it. They don't understand trade issues, but they vote on trade agreements. They don't understand the effects of oil and gas companies polluting the environment, but they vote on laws governing those industries.

    In fact, when have they actually voted on an issue that they truly understand?

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

  • identicon
    Stephen, 11 May 2015 @ 10:38pm

    Cluelessness and the NSA

    “It’s pretty clear that 9/11 could have been prevented if we had known about some of the communications that were linked to those who committed the terrible atrocity of 9/11.”

    First of all, no, 9/11 would not have been prevented if this info had been available.
    That goes without saying. If the NSA did not detect in advance the recent terrorist shooting incident in Texas OR the one in Boston (or for that matter detect that guy on the gyrocopter before he landed on that lawn in DC) why on Earth would anyone believe the NSA would be any more likely to detect another 9/11?

    That gyrocopter incident was probably the most telling. If the NSA did not have a clue about somebody who announces his plans publicly in advance, how on Earth is it going to find out the plans of those who don't?

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

  • icon
    Chris in Utah (profile), 12 May 2015 @ 3:34pm

    But, even more importantly, people should be asking: why are we letting these idiots make the decision on this stuff when they either don't understand it or are outright lying to the American public?
    Cop Arrest Social Worker

    Yet.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.