Senate Fight Is On Over NSA Surveillance Reform

from the line-up-the-fud dept

Earlier this week, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the USA Freedom Act, which takes some small steps towards limiting the NSA's surveillance efforts. And, in fact, as Rep. Justin Amash has pointed out, many of the no votes actually came from people who felt USA Freedom doesn't go nearly far enough (which is true). As we mentioned at the time, the fight now moves to the Senate, and the opening gambit is that Senator Mitch McConnell has pushed out a "short term" reauthorization, that would just renew Section 215 through July 31st, supposedly to give the Senate more time to "debate" this issue. This is as opposed to his original bill that renewed it through 2020.

But there's a fight being set up here. A whole bunch of Senators have said that they won't, under any circumstances vote for any renewal bill, short or long:
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday issued a clear and direct joint statement declaring their intent to oppose any extension of the Patriot Act's expiring surveillance authorities that does not end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of U.S. call data.

"We will not agree to any extension of the NSA's bulk-collection program, which has already been ruled unlawful by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals," the group, which includes Sens. Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee in addition to Reps. Bob Goodlatte, John Conyers, Jim Sensenbrenner, and Jerrold Nadler, said.
Meanwhile, on the flip side, you have McConnell and Senate Intelligence Committee boss Senator Richard Burr spewing pure nonsense about how not renewing Section 215 will somehow put us all at risk:
"We're not taking up the House bill," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, another defender of the NSA, told reporters Wednesday. "The program as designed is effective, and members are reluctant to change things that are effective just because of public opinion."

Burr said he views the USA Freedom Act as "one and the same" as allowing the Patriot Act provisions to expire entirely. "Because when you do away with bulk storage, you basically have an unworkable system in real-time," he said.
Almost everything Burr states above is totally false. First of all, the program "as designed" is not effective. That's the conclusion of almost everyone who has looked at the details. The White House task force set up to study the program said that it couldn't find any terror attacks stopped by the program. Three Senators on the Intelligence Committee have said the program has never been useful. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) could find no justification for the program. A district court judge, Richard Leon, spoke out about how surprised he was that the DOJ presented no evidence that the program was useful.

How stupid does Burr think everyone is to then go out there and claim that the program is "effective" and that the Senate believes it's effective.

Separately, the argument that "doing away with bulk storage" creates an "unworkable system" makes no sense either. Given the recent 2nd Circuit ruling, it also appears to be advocating for a program that is both illegal and unconstitutional.

And, of course, that raises a separate point. Even if the Senate does a clean renewal of Section 215, the court has already ruled that that law does not allow for such bulk collection/storage. So, Burr can't claim it's necessary to renew 215 to keep bulk collection, since the law does not actually allow that.

A lot of this is just idiotic political posturing. As Amash notes, this may all just be a game by McConnell and other surveillance state supporters in the Senate to water down an already weak USA Freedom Act bill to make it even less useful (or worse).

Either way, this is all going to come to a head next week. The Senate wants to get this done by the 22nd of May (even though Section 215 doesn't expire until the end of the month), as they're not supposed to be in session the final week of the month. Stay tuned for next week...
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Filed Under: bulk collection, mass surveillance, mitch mcconnell, nsa, patriot act, richard burr, section 215, senate, surveillance, surveillance reform, usa freedom act


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  • identicon
    Michael, 15 May 2015 @ 4:31am

    "The program as designed is effective, and members are reluctant to change things that are effective just because of public opinion."

    I thought the senate worked for the "public". Shouldn't their job be representing the will of their constituents?

    This looks to me like the equivalent of me telling my boss: "Nope. I don't like the changes you are proposing. What is there works and I don't change something that works just because you tell me to.". She likes me, but I'm pretty sure I would be job hunting the next day.

    Can we PLEASE vote these asshats out?

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

    • identicon
      mcinsand, 15 May 2015 @ 6:16am

      I prefer prosecution

      Each member of senate and congress took an oath to uphold the Constitution on taking office, and each of them that has supported bulk data collection has actively subverted the Constitution. I would prefer criminal prosecution. Does undermining the Constitution count as treason? Can we possibly prosecute to the fullest extent of the available penalties under treason, particularly given the scope?

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

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 6:58am

      I prefer a Steel Cage Match

      Let the Senate fight it out. Give them all the weapons they need.

      When they're all gone, vote new ones in. Let the old ones be an example of what not to do.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 5:41am

    Can we PLEASE vote these asshats out?

    Or, maybe better, get term limits so that it becomes a moot point about idiots voting them back in?

    I've seen people discuss and advocate for term limits many times over the years in various forums and I've never really given it much thought. But, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it is the only way to get rid of these despots who seem to have grown roots in office and have become unwilling to serve the will of the people rather than their own interests.

    When you have members of congress advocating and fighting for laws and policies that courts have clearly found to be unlawful and/or unconstitutional, what does that say about the mental state of those members advocating it? It certainly isn't good for the people they are supposed to represent.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 6:20am

      Re:

      I don't think term limits would be the answer we are looking for. Take the money and political parties out of the equation, then we might have a start toward a Republic working for the people and not corporate people. I am not against term limits, but I see the as a very small step in the right direction. Much more is needed.

      Now, how do we get that to happen? Somebody mentioned a constitutional convention in another post, but the state legislators suffer from the same diseases. With those with money, and political influence in charge they will never agree to end the corruption.

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

  • identicon
    Kafka is my Fish Wife, 15 May 2015 @ 6:21am

    May 22nd

    As is pointed out by Emptywheel, the may 22nd deadline is because there are re-authorizations that they want to happen and they are required to give a weeks notice to the FISC court

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 6:40am

    "just because of public opinion"?!?! These assholes in charge do everything they can to make it perfectly clear just who it is they work for, don't they?

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

  • identicon
    DigDug, 15 May 2015 @ 6:51am

    Simple plan to defeat this...

    Wait for the vote to happen.
    Then arrest any of them that vote for it on grounds of High Treason, as their actions will cause great harm to the Constitution and people of this nation.

    Sell tickets to their execution, and the national debt will be erased.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 7:13am

      Re: Simple plan to defeat this...

      The people necessary to enact this are the ones voting for it.

      I am sure you can see the conflict of interest here.

      this is the reason the Declaration of Independence says... "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 7:18am

    Guess who thinks they are above the law? I would say they have gone full retard, but that would be an offense to anyone that is mentally challenged. They won't be happy until we are rioting in the streets and the national guard gets orders to start neutralizing the population.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 7:25am

    our govt

    A bunch of useless parasites. I'm surprised they showed up for 'work'.

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

  • identicon
    David, 15 May 2015 @ 7:29am

    You are confused

    And, of course, that raises a separate point. Even if the Senate does a clean renewal of Section 215, the court has already ruled that that law does not allow for such bulk collection/storage.

    Uh, the court has ruled that the law in the form of Section 215 does not allow for the bulk collection/storage it has been used as excuse for.

    The court has not ruled that section 215 does not allow for section 215. It has not ruled whether bulk collection/storage laws are unconstitutional.

    What is has ruled is that the lawmakers will need to pass more than Section 215 in order to express their intent to let the stuff happen or continue that has been justified in its name so far.

    Now apparently the hawks are going to pretend that if they renew Section 215, that will be all that is needed to go on as before. Which is wrong.

    Whether or not either Section 215 or the ongoing surveillance are constitutional: that's Supreme Court material.

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 8:55am

      Re: You are confused

      Uh, the court has ruled that the law in the form of Section 215 does not allow for the bulk collection/storage it has been used as excuse for.

      The court has not ruled that section 215 does not allow for section 215. It has not ruled whether bulk collection/storage laws are unconstitutional. you really appear to be contradicting your self here, but read what you quoted again:
      And, of course, that raises a separate point. Even if the Senate does a clean renewal of Section 215, the court has already ruled that that law does not allow for such bulk collection/storage.
      Mike does not say in that quote that the court has ruled bulk collection unconsitutional, he says that "that law does not allow for such bulk collection/storage.", as in the law as written does not allow for bulk collection, otherwise Exactly what you originally said. I am not sure how your quote shows that Mike is confused about the ruling. He is noting here that a 'clean renewal', that is to say a renewal with no modified or additional language, does not authorize the bulk collection program. That's your claim, thats Mike's claim. Where is the confusion?

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

      • identicon
        David, 15 May 2015 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re: You are confused

        I read "that the law" instead of "that that law". So I have to take back the "you are confused" in exchange for an "you are confusing".

        The point that we get a hawk theatre where some senators pretend it to be very important to get the renewal in order to continue to spy on everybody... There are actually several fatal gaps in that reasoning.

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

  • identicon
    Sally May, 15 May 2015 @ 7:47am

    "The program as designed is effective…”

    I tend to accept their arguments about the current systems being effective. With the data that they are collecting and the resources that they have it is hardly a stretch to imagine that they have some sort of reliable classification algorithms running to identify probable “terrorists”.

    My problem with mass state surveillance is:

    1) Machine learning algorithms are general in nature. The same input data that are being used to identify terrorists can just as easily be used to identify Jews, homosexuals, file sharers, labour organizers, environmental protesters, general dissidents etc. It seems like an inevitability that these systems will be used to hunt down domestic political dissidents – if this is not already happening.

    2) What they call “terrorism” is actually resistance and blowback from their military aggression. I am not sure how I feel about “US foreign policy”. Maybe the Realpolitik makes one global military empire or another inevitable and US is a lesser evil than letting China and/or Russia take the Middle East. I don’t know. But my strong feeling is that a negotiated political solution is possible and that it is just thieves and gangsters running these wars. I have no real trust or faith in the people doing the surveillance.

    3) How can free markets operate if the state can see and hear everything? There can be no commercial secrets. The state can rig any market it wants.

    4) How can democracy operate if the state can see and hear everything? There can be no democracy when all citizens permanently feel that the state is monitoring everything that they do and say. Everyone has something to hide. It freezes debate.

    5) Who is actually in charge? Clapper perjured himself and he is still there. CIA hacked their "overseers" with impunity. Congress, as generally worthless and bought as they are, seem to have no influence on any of it. Are we under military rule?

    6) Washington signed off on an official torture program. That was the thing that we used to claim made us the “good guys”. How can “we” possibly claim the be the good guys now? Are we the bad guys?

    “…members are reluctant to change things that are effective just because of public opinion."

    Almost like they think that it is their job to represent the public.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 8:02am

      Re:

      "I tend to accept their arguments about the current systems being effective."

      I don't.

      But I also think that it doesn't matter in the least whether the current system is effective or not. It's clearly unconstitutional, unamerican, and dangerous to the freedom and liberty we have left.

      The question of effectiveness only counts if they can clear the questions of acceptability and reasonableness.

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

    • icon
      JP Jones (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 11:34am

      Re:

      Biological and nuclear weapons are effective too but we seem to have a little reluctance to use them. Why? Because we don't want them used on us, either. So we ban them because even potentially saving American lives by using weapons of mass destruction rather than ground troops is a secondary concern to the ethical ramifications of these weapons and our desire to avoid having these weapons used against us.

      Guess what? Mass spying is similar. We don't want to be spied on by our own government, even if it is to protect us. It's all too easy for that power to be used with the best of intentions for all the wrong reasons. After all, once we've "fixed" the terrorist problem, why not use it to hunt down drug cartels? Drugs are bad, right? Next let's identify those illegal immigrants; they're breaking the law, too! Hey, we can use this to easily identify people speeding, let's start fixing that issue...

      Woah, wait. You're going to start tracking me for speeding tickets? I'm not sure how I feel about that...you're arresting me for copyright infringement? Jaywalking? Spitting on the street? Get off my case, I'm trying to live here!

      Be careful justifying something just because it's effective (especially when it's not, but that's another issue). There are plenty of people out there who truly believe that no one should be allowed to break the law when living on a daily basis means breaking the law. In a country with 2.4 million people already in prison, more than any other country in the world, you might want to be careful what you wish for.

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

      • identicon
        Sally May, 15 May 2015 @ 6:22pm

        Re: Re:

        Here is an excellent interview with Robert Scheer about his new book: They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5y-ok3l27k

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

        • identicon
          Pragmatic, 18 May 2015 @ 6:33am

          Re: Re: Re:

          RE: the free market, there is not and never has been a free market. All large companies tend towards consolidation and monopoly; the last thing they want is competition.

          I should also point out that certain security companies (e.g. Booz Allen) and consultancies run by former representatives are making out like bandits, spewing FUD about terrorism to sell their "solutions." Crony capitalism has always been a thing.

          So... this curtailment of our privacy, and with it, our freedom, is not a government-driven problem, it's a for-profit problem masquerading as the solution to a government whose law-makers are in hock to powerful donors.

          So... what do we do? Keep pointing this out to those partisan nitwits caught up in the "divide and conquer" game. If and when we the people wake up and regain control of our government (let me dream!), we need to get the profit motive out of weapons and surveillance. I'm not sure how, but I know that is what's driving this crap.

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 9:15am

    I can see the risk of what might happen, imagine if the FBI and other alphabet agencies decide to inflict more fake terrorism plots against the public so that people stop thinking with their head and instead let fear rule them.

    Maybe even a few plots that actually do harm this time to get the fear of terrorism into the public faster. Nothing like a little state created terrorism to get your police state laws passed

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2015 @ 9:29am

      Re:

      "Maybe even a few plots that actually do harm this time to get the fear of terrorism into the public faster. Nothing like a little state created terrorism to get your police state laws passed"
      Ever hear of 911?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 9:17am

    Term limits and recalls...

    Both are sorely needed but would require constitutional amendments. The question becomes what length of time is appropriate for each office. There is also the question of the 'professional politician': when one hits the limit for one office they look to a different office to run for. I've seen this happen in my area.

    Those areas that allow recalls also have rules prohibiting a recall action in the first and last years of a term. Thus recalling a Representitive is pointless as their terms are 2 years. But we do need the ability to recall a Senator.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 11:54am

    "The program as designed is effective, and members are reluctant to change things that are effective just because of public opinion."

    sounds to me as if a 'NO' vote would be good next time he needs the public to vote for him! he's supposed to be representing the public! without them, there would be no need for any politicians in the first place!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2015 @ 1:23pm

    What about reforming some of those senators?

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


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