Senator Wyden Puts A Hold On Intelligence Authorization Bill To Block FBI Warrantless Surveillance

from the there-goes-that-wyden-guy-again dept

As we've discussed, some surveillance/law enforcement hawks have tried to rush through a law to expand the power of national security letters (NSLs) to paper over the long standing abuse of NSLs, by saying that they can use those documents (which have basically no oversight and don't require a warrant) to collect a ton of private info, including email info and web browsing histories. The rushed vote on this -- stupidly citing the Orlando attacks, despite the fact it would have done nothing to stop that -- failed but just barely. Basically, if Senator Dianne Feinstein were able to attend the vote, it likely would have passed. The support for it was one vote shy, and then Sen. Mitch McConnell changed his vote for procedural reasons to be able to bring it back for a quick follow up vote.

Now, as Congress rushes towards that vote, Senator Ron Wyden stepped up today to use his power as a Senator to put a hold on the entire Intelligence Authorization bill. He gave a short floor speech explaining his reasons.
I certainly appreciate the FBI’s interest in obtaining records about potential suspects quickly. But Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges are very capable of reviewing and approving requests for court orders in a timely fashion. And section 102 of the recently-passed USA FREEDOM Act gives the FBI new authority to obtain records immediately in emergency situations, and then seek court review after the fact. I strongly supported the passage of that provision, which I first proposed in 2013. By contrast, I do not believe it is appropriate to give the government broad new surveillance authorities just because FBI officials do not like doing paperwork. If the FBI’s own process for requesting court orders is too slow, then the appropriate solution is bureaucratic reforms, not a major expansion of government surveillance authorities.

The fact of the matter is that ‘electronic communication transaction records’ can reveal a great deal of personal information about individual Americans. If government officials know that an individual routinely emails a mental health professional, or sends texts to a substance abuse support group, or visits a particular dating website, or the website of a particular political group, then the government knows a lot about that individual. Our Founding Fathers rightly argued that such intrusive searches should be approved by independent judges.

It is worth noting that President George W. Bush’s administration reached the same conclusion. In November 2008, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel advised the FBI that National Security Letters could only be used to obtain certain types of records, and this list did not include electronic communication transaction records. The FBI has unfortunately not adhered to this guidance, and has at times continued to issue National Security Letters for electronic communications records. A number of companies that have received these overly broad National Security Letters have rightly challenged them as improper. Broadening the National Security Letter law to include electronic communication transaction records would be a significant expansion of the FBI’s statutory authority.

And unfortunately, the FBI’s track record with its existing National Security Letter authorities includes a substantial amount of abuse and misuse. These problems have been extensively documented in reports by the Justice Department Inspector General from 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2014. As one of these reports noted, “the FBI [has] used NSLs in violation of applicable statutes, Attorney General guidelines, and internal FBI policies.” No one in the Senate should be surprised by this pattern of abuse and misuse, because this is unfortunately what happens when federal agencies are given broad surveillance powers with no judicial oversight. In my judgment, it would be reckless to expand this particular surveillance authority when the FBI has so frequently failed to use its existing authorities responsibly.
Of course, to some extent, this is little more than show. It's pretty clear that McConnell has the votes to get this passed, which is why Wyden has now taken the dramatic step of putting a hold on the bill. But the 60 votes here are usually what is necessary to break a hold (which remains a widely used, but informal, Senate rule). So in the end this won't mean much, but we've been here before again and again and again. And by now it should be clear: When Ron Wyden says that the government is abusing laws to spy on Americans, he's not lying. We shouldn't then paper over that abuse and give the FBI or the NSA or anyone else greater powers to spy on Americans. Because they use that power and they don't tend to use it wisely and judiciously.

Can anyone explain, seriously, why the emergency powers that allow the FBI to do the search in an emergency and then get the warrant after are somehow too problematic? Or why the FBI can't go and get a warrant at all? It's a petty quick process for them these days. This whole effort seems designed solely to wipe out what little oversight there is of the FBI and its use of national security letters.

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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Jun 2016 @ 11:38pm

    I wonder if someones been sending members of Congress episodes of 24 to show them how fast the bad things can happen.

    (Stop looking at me like that. Look at half the shit they approve and tell me its not based on a tv show or movie.)

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

    • icon
      Hephaestus (profile), 28 Jun 2016 @ 12:13am

      Re:

      It is not. It is all based on being posers for the media, and the need for re-election funding. Plus the need to show they are doing something to the public at large. It is all a joke.

      #RemoveAllOfThem
      #VoteTheNewbie
      #AnyoneButTheGuyThatsIsThere

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

      • identicon
        RTScot, 28 Jun 2016 @ 8:48am

        Re: Re:

        so, you're saying we should vote out Wyden?!? No wonder we're fighting a losing battle here - our "allies" have the strategic abilities of a hamster.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2016 @ 8:18am

      Re:

      Only half?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Jun 2016 @ 11:45pm

    Not too hard to understand if you're not forced to be 'polite' for political reasons

    And unfortunately, the FBI’s track record with its existing National Security Letter authorities includes a substantial amount of abuse and misuse. These problems have been extensively documented in reports by the Justice Department Inspector General from 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2014. As one of these reports noted, “the FBI [has] used NSLs in violation of applicable statutes, Attorney General guidelines, and internal FBI policies.”

    Silly Wyden, why else do you think they want the law, it's so that once more they can make their actions retroactively complaint with the law, and do openly what they've been forced to do with at least a tiny amount of subterfuge before now.

    Really, you'd have thought that by now he'd have caught on to the SOP of this lot...

    Can anyone explain, seriously, why the emergency powers that allow the FBI to do the search in an emergency and then get the warrant after are somehow too problematic?

    I'll take "What creates a paper trail, requires more than a nebulous 'hunch' to acquire, and sets limits on what may be searched and/or seized?" for $500.

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

  • identicon
    David, 28 Jun 2016 @ 3:28am

    You don't fool me.

    Can anyone explain, seriously, why the emergency powers that allow the FBI to do the search in an emergency and then get the warrant after are somehow too problematic?

    That's a trick question, right? Answering it gets you on the no-fly list, right?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2016 @ 4:03am

    Feels weird to see someone standing up for the rights of their constituents instead of expanding the powers of a tyrannistic police state for personal profit.

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

    • identicon
      David, 28 Jun 2016 @ 4:14am

      Re:

      It's a ruse to increase voter turnout. Market coverage. There's not actually a whole lot of demand for the civil rights niche though. Too wimpy. Two senators covering it was a bit excessive so it recently has been whittled down to one.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 28 Jun 2016 @ 4:45am

    Welcome to the United States of Police. Frankly, freedom has been thrown out the window. Terrorists won already. Now it's just kicking a dead body.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2016 @ 6:27am

    What enrages me the most about this is the absolute refusal by Comey to so much as justify this claimed need.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 28 Jun 2016 @ 6:35am

      It's the duty of all obedient americans to be afraid, so start shaking in fear!

      Because terrorists! Communists! Criminals of all sorts! The law gets in the way of finding and holding them accountable for violating the law, therefore the only possible response is to get rid of the law! The only possible reason someone wouldn't want the government to be able to do anything it wants with absolutely no restrictions is because they're a terrorist, communist, or both!

      /poe

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

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 28 Jun 2016 @ 9:57am

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we know what happened when the Senate was granted "emergency powers"

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

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 28 Jun 2016 @ 11:06am

    The Depth of Denial

    "This whole effort seems designed solely to wipe out what little oversight there is of the FBI and its use of national security letters."

    Ooooo! Somebody's been paying attention!

    At this rate, it shouldn't be more than another decade or two before some Americans will start to notice all the fascists running their country.

    Of course, that's assuming that the Fascsits have not fully liquidated the USA's assets and sold it and all its peasants to China before that can happen.

    Ah well, just Darwin in action I guess.

    ---

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2016 @ 3:33pm

    Senator Ron Wyden = Hero

    He is one of the good guys

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

  • icon
    bookwallah (profile), 28 Jun 2016 @ 5:39pm

    Is Ron Wyden the only senator fighting the good fight to protect the Constitution on these issues? I can't think of a second, but I hope someone here can.

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

  • identicon
    Justme, 28 Jun 2016 @ 8:16pm

    Play the game their way..

    Senator Wyden should add a last minute amendment to the next budget bill that prohibits the expansion of any legal surveillance authority of any law/intel agency.

    It's time they stop covering their asses and start upholding the constitution!

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


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