NSA update: Government fights transparency, House plans vote to codify domestic spying

Americans have been inundated with stories about the Obamacare meltdown, there has been some news about the NSA and domestic surveillance programs in the last few days, and none of it is good.

TechDirt reported on Tuesday that Justice Department is fighting a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order to release the government’s secret interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Section 215 of the 2001 anti-terrorism law has been used to justify domestic spying programs employed by the NSA, despite a clear limitation on whom the government can collect information. At some point since its passage, however, the government came up with its own interpretation that says something entirely different.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who sponsored the law, contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision only allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.

“The phone records of innocent Americans do not relate to terrorism, whatsoever; and they are not reasonably likely to lead to information that relates to terrorism,” said Sensenbrenner in a speech last month at the Cato Institute. “Put simply, the phone calls we make to our friends, our families, and business associates are private and have nothing to do with terrorism or the government’s efforts to stop it.”

A day after this story, on Wednesday, the Huffington Post reported that a FISC judge, in 2010, warned the NSA was dangerously close to violating the law because of unauthorized surveillance programs, which could’ve resulted in criminal penalties. What did the judge do? He gave the intelligence agency room to expand its surveillance programs.

That same day, Foreign Policy noted that the American diplomats are working behind the scenes to kill a proposal in the United Nations to make online privacy a recognized universal right. The proposal is a response to stories of United States intelligence agencies spying on various world leaders.

Regardless of how one may feel about the United Nations, some things proposed there are worthwhile. This measure is one of them.

And, late Wednesday evening, The Hill reported that the House of Representatives planned to bypass the committee process and bring a bill dealing with domestic surveillance to the floor for a vote.

The text of the bill was (surprise!) a secret, but Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who has sought to rollback domestic surveillance, tweeted that the bill “would ‘legalize’ ’s unconstitutional spying on Americans.” That means that the measure that the House will vote on is very similar to the bill recently passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which, ostensibly, codified the spying programs.

The only real good news this week was an amendment to the defense appropriations bill (NDAA) introduced by senators who support greater transparency in spying programs, but because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has limited the number of amendments on which the chamber will vote, it’s this much needed measure isn’t likely to be considered. Reid’s cloture motion to advance the NDAA was rejected last night by the Senate.

So while much of the country has been focused by Obamacare, filibuster fights and other political, you’re government, in bipartisan fashion, is fighting any inkling of transparency, still violating your privacy and is, in fact, trying to enhance and codify those spying programs.

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