A leading critic of the NSA bulk data collection program says the votes exist in the House of Representatives to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, a sweeping measure that would end bulk data collection and protect Americans’ privacy rights.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) told The Hill last week that he would offer an amendment to address the NSA bulk meta collection programs if the White House and House Intelligence Committee proposal fall short. Now that he’s had time to review them, the Michigan Republican believes the dueling measures don’t stop bulk data collection at all.
“The proposals from the White House and the Intelligence Committee don’t really make much of a difference. They don’t actually stop bulk collection,” Amash said in an interview on Wednesday. “They transfer where the data is held, but the government can still access it in basically the same way.”
Amash supports the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced in October by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). This measure would not only end the bulk data collection program, it would also close loopholes the NSA could use to access Americans’ personal records.
The USA FREEDOM Act has broad, bipartisan support — a rarity in Washington these days — but it’s currently stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, though Amash notes that it has “a lot of support” from its members.
Eight Maryland Republicans introduced the Fourth Amendment Protection Act last Thursday. The bill would keep local government from providing resources to the National Security Agency while it’s engaged in any form of spying programs. According to OffNow.org, the bill would make any data gathered by the NSA inadmissible in state court.
The piece of legislation is based on the model legislation drafted by the Tenth Amendment Center that is being used by lawmakers in several other states to fight the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance locally.
Maryland is basically the National Security Agency’s political subdivision, according to the Tenth Amendment Center’s executive director Michael Boldin. The agency’s home base in Ft. Meade, Maryland uses a massive amount of water, which would be denied to the agency if the legislation passes. Local governments would be denied state funds if they refuse to comply with the law and companies would be blocked from maintaining any state contract if they choose to cooperate with the NSA.
Eight Republicans are defending Maryland’s HB 1074 in the House of Delegates. The bill will only pass with the approval of three-fifths of delegates. The introduction of the legislation follows reports concerning a contract renewal between the NSA and Howard County, Maryland that will provide the agency with up to 5 million gallons of water per day. The water is used to cool the agency’s supercomputers, which would not be functioning if it weren’t for all of the water provided by local governments.
President Obama’s claim to be responding to people’s concerns related to the NSA’s surveillance programs hasn’t gained momentum, mainly because most Americans still believe that his promised reforms will do nothing to address the real problems.
According to Politico, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that over 60 percent of people who participated said they value privacy over surveillance tactics disguised as anti-terror protections carried out by agencies like the National Security Agency. Since the last time this question was asked of respondents back in August by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the percentage of Americans that claimed to value privacy over security has gone up two points.
Since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made his revelations public, President Obama has been scrambling to gain the public’s trust back but none of his efforts seems to be paying off. He has recently promised to review NSA’s surveillance system by ensuring that new limits are going to be imposed to the intelligence committee. According to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Obama’s reforms are not going to be effective mostly because the President has misdiagnosed the problem.
According to the most recent poll, only 34% of respondents claimed to support Obama’s reform proposals concerning the FISA court procedures and the creation of a panel of attorneys that would offer counter-arguments to the government, while only 17% say Obama’s proposal to move collected phone data out of the NSA’s hands is valid.
Lawmakers in at least seven states are taking the fight against the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs to state capitols. All bills introduced locally to keep the states from cooperating with the federal government were based on the Off Now Coalition’s model bill.
Tennessee has now joined Washington, Kansas, California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana in the battle to keep the federal government’s advances against privacy from spreading. The bill introduced by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) would keep the state from providing water and electricity to an NSA facility or any other federal agency “claiming the power to authorize the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant.”
The bill would prohibit the state of Tennessee from taking part in any effort to abuse the Fourth Amendment by ensuring that the NSA does not obtain any local material support, which is fundamental to the smooth operation of their facilities. The bill would also ensure that data gathered without a warrant and shared with local law enforcement agencies, cannot be used as evidence in state court. Any local public University in Tennessee would be prohibited from serving as recruiting grounds to the NSA. The agency would also be kept from using universities as research facilities.
A federal district judge ruled this morning that the National Security Agency’s phone metadata surveillance program is constitutional and dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In a 53-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley acknowledged that the NSA phone surveillance program “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States.” But he opined that the program could have prevented the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“As the September 11th attacks demonstrate, the cost of missing such a thread can be horrific,” wrote Pauley in ACLU v. Clapper. “Technology allowed al-Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attack remotely.”
“The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the Government’s counter-punch: connecting fragmented and fleeting communications to re-construct and eliminate al-Qaeda’s terror network,” he added.
Pauley acknowledged that there have been “unintentional violations of guidelines,” but dismissed this at “human error” and “incredibly complex computer programs that support this vital tool.” He also wrote that the program is “subject to executive and congressional oversight” and “monitoring” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
Pauley was appointed to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in May 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton. He was confirmed by the Senate in October 1998. The court on which Pauley serves is based in New York City.
I believe I can speak for every single libertarian out there when I say that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s decision on the unconstitutionality of the phone collection program is nothing short of exceptional.
According to Judge Leon, the NSA program that gathers phone data made to, from or within the United States is likely unconstitutional due to its violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Justice Department also failed to demonstrate to Judge Leon how the intrusive program has actually helped the government to track terrorists before actual attacks take place.
Leon, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, issued a preliminary injunction that keeps the NSA from gathering metadata pertaining to the Verizon cell phone users that led to the lawsuit filed by the conservative legal activist Larry Klayman. Since the first leaks provided by Edward Snowden concerning the massive surveillance program carried out by the National Security Agency, nothing significant has been officially accomplished by lawmakers or activists trying to curb the agency’s snooping programs.
The recent ruling is the first time that a judge considers the metadata gathering program unconstitutional, considering that several judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled the program constitutional.
The focus in on the NSA controversy and ObamaCare got us thinking — what are the worst laws passed by Congress? So we did some thinking and came up with some of the most egregious laws to be passed by Congress. The list was so large that we had to cut it into two posts one on personal liberty and the other dealing with economic liberty, which will be posted next week.
The following list isn’t in any particular order, so don’t take one bad law being ahead of another as anything significant.
Espionage Act (1917)
The Espionage Act, passed nearly two months after the United States entered World War I, has had startling ramifications for free speech in the United States. Shortly after becoming law, Eugene Debs, a socialist and labor leader, was arrested and convicted for giving a speech that “interfered” with the recruitment of soldiers for the war effort. The law primarily used for prosecution of alleged spies and whistleblowers working in the government. For example, the government tried to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame under the act, but the jury declared a mistrial. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has also been charged under the Espionage Act. Both Ellsberg and Snownden’s disclosures were embarrassments for the government.
Indian Removal Act (1830)
Back in 2004, Congress passed an amendment offered by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to an omnibus spending bill to commemorate the signing of the Constitution and declare September 17, the day on which the document was signed by its framers, to be “Constitution Day.”
It’s ironic that a legislative body that frequently steps outside it’s limitations would pass a measure recognizing a document for which they have little regard. In the years preceding the creation of Constitution Day, Congress passed a number of measures that fly in the face of the intent and spirit of the Constitution and the rights protected therein.
But Constitution Day means a little more this year than in the past, given the renaissance the document has seen, particularly in just the past few months.
There are several examples from which we could choose to highlight the rebirth of the Constitution, such as Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster back in March or the defeat of onerous gun control measures, including expanded background checks and a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” that would have further infringed upon Second Amendment rights. But recent developments concerning the NSA and Syria are, arguably, in the back of most Americans’ minds.
The National Security Agency’s Internet communications surveillance is so vast that it can reach nearly 75% of all online communications, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
President Barack Obama has gone to great lengths recently to downplay the NSA’s surveillance apparatus, telling Americans that the government isn’t spying on them and publicly discussing reforms that would protect privacy. But the Wall Street Journal’s report indicates that the snooping programs do in fact retain both email and phone communications between American citizens.
“The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say,” noted the Wall Street Journal.
“The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S.,” the paper added. “But officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.”
If you thought last week’s vote on the amendment offered by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) to defund the NSA was the end of the fight to restore privacy rights, think again.
Just a couple years ago, it seemed that the PATRIOT Act and other constitutionally questionable legislation were destined to pass each time they came up for renewal. There were some minor victories along the way, but news of the NSA’s broad surveillance program, through which the agency collects third-party records (including phone records and Internet metadata), sparked a welcome backlash from Americans and many members of Congress.
The result was a strong push by civil libertarians from both parties to preserve the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the right to privacy, but not hamper the intelligence community from doing their jobs. Instead of blanket surveillance, however, Amash’s amendment would have simply required that data collection “pertain to a person who is the subject of an investigation.”
The vote on the Amash amendment was much closer that many civil libertarians thought it would be. Just two years ago, the PATRIOT Act, through which the NSA has claimed the power to broadly surveil Americans, was renewed by a 275-144 vote.