PATRIOT Act

Hero Senator with Bladder of Steel to (Literally) Stand Up to Global Perpetual War Machine

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The last time Rand Paul stood on his feet for 13 hours, he created a phenomenon. His filibuster before the nomination of a CIA director to get answers from the White House about drone policy basically launched his presidential campaign. It catapulted him into the national spotlight, united a civil libertarian coalition of Republican and Democrat senators, and spawned the #StandWithRand hashtag that has become his campaign slogan two years later.

Now the senator has vowed to do the same thing, but for real this time. Two years ago, Paul wasn’t trying to block the Brennan nomination with his filibuster, only to delay it to force a clarification from the Obama administration on how they decide who receives oversight-free execution via flying death robot. He got it.

This time, he’s definitely trying to affect policy.

“I’m going to lead the charge in the next couple of weeks as the Patriot Act comes forward,” [Paul] said in a one-on-one interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We will be filibustering. We will be trying to stop it. We are not going to let them run over us. And we are going to demand amendments and we are going to make sure the American people know that some of us at least are opposed to unlawful searches.”

PATRIOT Act author introduces measure to end NSA bulk data collection

James Sensenbrenner

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author and primary sponsor of the USA PATRIOT Act, announced on Wednesday that he would introduce legislation, the USA FREEDOM Act, to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone and Internet metadata.

“My view of the PATRIOT Act hasn’t changed,” said Sensenbrenner at a Cato Institute conference on NSA surveillance.

“What has changed is what two administrations, Bush 43 and the Obama Administration, have done after I left office as chairman of the [House] Judiciary Committee and did not have my tart oversight pen to send oversight letters that usually were cosigned by Congressman [John] Conyers, then-the ranking member, to the Justice Department, and specifically acting like a crabby, old professors when they were non-responsive in their answers,” he explained.

Sensenbrenner has become a fierce critic of the NSA’s surveillance techniques, referring to them as “excessive and un-American” in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The NSA has justified the bulk data collection through a controversial provision of the PATRIOT Act. He contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision, Section 215, allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.

Justin Amash details how the Intelligence Committee kept important documents from House members

Justin Amash speaks at LPAC

While some continue to defend that House members had access to important classified NSA surveillance documents before having to vote on it, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) reported that he and his colleagues were only contacted to learn they would have the opportunity to review the classified document through an internal communications system for Congress that is used by members when they need to send each other interoffice mail. Because of the great volume of messages, few House members or staffers check the messages posted through the “e-Dear Colleague” system.

According to Amash, the House Intelligence Committee made the document available for review shortly before Congress’ summer recess and without notifying staffers directly, which is the procedure when members must be made aware of important intelligence briefings.

After the Intelligence Committee notified members through the “e-Dear Colleague” system, Rep. Amash informed some of his colleagues of the briefing on his own. According to Amash, the only representatives who actually showed up at the briefing were the ones that had been contacted by Amash or his office after the message was sent to members via the internal messaging tool.

There is reason to feel optimistic on this Constitution Day

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.

Congress denied access to classified document prior to NSA vote

In May 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) took the floor of the Senate to warn his colleagues that Americans would one day be outraged to learn that the U.S. Government was actively engaged in surveillance activities that most citizens would consider outright criminal.

With carefully measured words, to avoid being reprimanded, the Senator from Oregon took the time to bring up an even more serious problem, which also worried his colleague Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM): the Obama administration’s unwillingness to cooperate by allowing for an open debate on the specifics of the government’s classified interpretation of the Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the particular section that allegedly authorizes the NSA to collect records on nearly every single American citizen.

The Obama administration managed to avoid looking into the query and Sen. Wyden’s amendment, which would declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of Section 215, failed. Congress finally voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years despite not having access to one single classified document concerning the number of Americans affected by the surveillance activities authorized under the Patriot Act.

Fast forward to August, 2013. During a recent speech, President Obama claimed his administration had already begun the process of opening the debate on the NSA’s surveillance activities long before Mr. Edward Snowden stepped into the picture.

Atlas Bugged II: Is There an NSA Mass Location Tracking Program?

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Way back in 2011—when “Snowden” was just a quiescent indie band from Atlanta—I wrote two posts at the Cato Institute’s blog trying to suss out what the “secret law” of the Patriot Act that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others were raising alarms about might involve: “Atlas Bugged” and “Stalking the Secret Patriot Act.” Based on what seemed like an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence—which I won’t try to summarize here—I speculated that the government was likely engaged in some kind of large scale program of location tracking, involving the use of the Patriot Act’s Section 215 to bulk collect cell phone location records for data mining purposes.

Public debate over NSA spying has only just begun

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.

White House, Intelligence Committee Oppose Amash’s Amendment

In a very unsurprising turn of events, the White House press secretary Jay Carney announced that the White House is urging Congress to reject the amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) that would keep the National Security Agency from collecting data on anybody who is not a suspect or under investigation.

According to the WH press secretary, the amendment to HR 2397 is an attempt by Amash to “hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools.” He asked Congress to reject the measure and “move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.”

While Amash’s amendment is meant to only defund programs asking FISA court orders related to persons who are not under investigation, the White House seems to be using all tools available to discourage congressmen to break up the bipartisan support Rep. Amash has received.

Liberty-minded Republicans and liberal Democrats have expressed their intent to support the amendment that has been co-sponsored by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), John Conyers (D-MI), and Jared Polis (D-CO). According to Justin Amash’s spokesperson Will Adams the team believes it has all the votes necessary. “We’re very optimistic that we have the votes to get it across the finish line.” He continues “support began with the American people and has filtered through to members of Congress.”

House to vote on amendment to limit NSA funding

After some wrangling with Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Justin Amash’s amendment to the FY 2014 defense spending bill that would reinforce already existing limitations on the National Security Agency (NSA) will come to the floor for a vote as early as tomorrow.

This controversial part of the 2001 anti-terrorism law allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access third-party records pertaining to an investigation into criminal activity. News broke early last month that the NSA has used this authority under the PATRIOT Act to gain access to virtually every Americans’ phone records, even if they aren’t suspected of wrongdoing.

Just last week, it looked as though Amash’s amendment wouldn’t be approved for debate by the House Rules Committee. If House leaders kept the amendment off the floor, it’s possible that the entire defense spending measure would have been held up. This led to Amash and Boehner — the two have some rocky history — working together to forge a workable amendment that could be brought to the House floor for a vote.

Amash tweeted out his gratitude to Boehner for bringing the amendment out of committee and to the the floor for an up or down vote:

Legal or Not, Data-Mining Poses a Threat to Civil Liberties

Roger Pilon and Richard Epstein are out with an op-ed that argues that the data-mining and surveillance programs we’ve become aware of over the past week aren’t really as big a deal as many libertarians and conservatives are making them out to be:

President Barack Obama is under harsh attack for stating the obvious: No amount of government ingenuity will guarantee the American people 100 percent security, 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. He was answering a burst of more heated responses from left and right alike to the “news” that for years the National Security Agency has been collecting metadata about Americans’ phone calls and certain foreign Internet communications.

Legally, the president is on secure footing under the Patriot Act, which Congress passed shortly after 9/11 and has since reauthorized by large bipartisan majorities. As he stressed, the program has enjoyed the continued support of all three branches of the federal government. It has been free of political abuse since its inception. And as he rightly added, this nation has real problems if its people, at least here, can’t trust the combined actions of the executive branch and the Congress, backstopped by federal judges sworn to protect our individual liberties secured by the Bill of Rights.


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