Obama’s big speech on NSA surveillance falls flat

 Young Americans for Liberty

President Barack Obama continues to play defense amid privacy concerns over the expansive surveillance of American citizens that his administration has carried out.

During a White House press conference on Friday afternoon, President Obama laid out a series of steps that he would be taking to ensure that Americans’ civil liberties are protected, which he hoped would help make the public better understand the surveillance programs his administration is using to spy on them.

He told the media that he would work with Congress to reform the controversial section of the PATRIOT Act that the intelligence community has used far past congressional intent. He also said that he would push to have an “independent voice” to challenge the government if civil liberties are threatened.

On its face, what President Obama said was encouraging. But after reading the speech and subsequent answers to the media, there is still much about which to be discouraged. The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that the “devil is in the details,” and questions whether the proposed reforms will be meaningful.

Yes, President Obama, you’re spying on Americans

Rest easy, folks, President Barack Obama wants to assure you that the government isn’t spying on Americans, despite reports that the National Security Agency is collecting phone data of virutally every cell phone and Internet user in the country.

“We don’t have a domestic spying program,” President Obama declared during an appearance on The Tonight Show. “What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat. And that information is useful.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who recently pushed an unsuccessful amendment to limit NSA data collection, contests that assertion.

“There is a program — that the Director of National Intelligence declassified, they’ve revealed it — that collects the records of every single American in the United States, regardless of whether they’re connected to any terrorist threat,” Amash told Laura Ingraham on Wednesday. “So when he says we’re tracking phone records and emails of people who are just connected to terrorist threats, that’s not true.”

Chatting with Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA)

Paul Broun

“I talk to employer after employer that tells me that they’re just sitting tight trying to figure out what to do about it because they don’t know how to operate their business under this threat of ObamaCare. What is happening is employers who need to hire new people are not doing so because of ObamaCare.” — Rep. Paul Broun

If you’ve been following some of the news out of Washington, you know there is a big push from Republicans in both chambers of Congress to defund ObamaCare. But for some, there is more than can be done to fix the ongoing problems with America’s healthcare system.

Rep. Paul Broun, MD (R-GA), a general practitioner who has represented Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, since, has a unique perspective when it comes to healthcare. He has spent the last several years making house calls to patients who need medical care.

During a discussion last week with United Liberty, Broun explained that that he has re-introduced the Patient Option Act, a consumer-driven healthcare proposal that presents a stark contrast between the top-down approach currently being implemented by Obama Administration.

PATRIOT Act author slams Obama Administration over NSA spying

James Sensenbrenner

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on FISA, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) slammed the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access third-party records, and warned Deputy Attorney General James Cole that it may be not be renewed next year.

The NSA has used Section 215 to obtained authority to force cell phone providers to turn over the phone records of virtually every American, even if they are not suspected of terrorist activity. The catch is that this provision of the PATRIOT Act is only supposed to used in ongoing investigations into terrorist activity.

By so broadly seizing phone records, the Obama Administration is effectively saying that every American is a suspected terrorist. Sensenbrenner suggested that this is a “mockery of the legal standard” in the PATRIOT Act, noting that the intelligence community is “trying to have it both ways.”

Cole disputed the assertion, but Sensenbrenner wasn’t satisfied.

Michigan Republican pushes to defund unconstitutional NSA snooping

The House of Representatives could take up the annual defense appropriations bill this week, but may take the extraordinary step of limiting amendments in what seems to be an attempt to stop an effort to defend the National Security Agency’s unconstitutional spying program.

On Monday, The Hill reported that Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was urging House Republican leaders to allow his amendment to come to the floor for a vote:

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is mounting a push this week to defund the surveillance programs at the National Security Agency.

Amash said Monday that the defense appropriations bill, which could come to the House floor this week, was a chance to stop the NSA’s “unconstitutional spying on Americans.”

“Most important bill this week: DoD Approps. We can defund #NSA’s unconstitutional spying on Americans—if House leaders allow amendments, Amash tweeted Monday.

5 items in the PRISM report you need to read

Last week, the Congressional Research Service released a report on the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programs. Essentially, it is a “What You Need To Know, Mr. Representative” memo, mostly a summary of issues that have already been discussed publicly at length. It is nonetheless a useful document for the public to catch up on what is known.

Packed in its 15 pages are a number of interesting datapoints, with these being the big things you should know:

1. The standard for investigation is subjective.

The report notes the authority to investigate and take someone’s domestic phone records is invoked by crossing a very low bar. Section 50 USC § 1861 (b)(2)(a) asks that an investigator submit “a statement of facts showing there are reasonable grounds to believe” an investigation is necessary. The report notes there is no statutory definition of “reasonable grounds,” though it speculates that the standard is probably less stringent than “probable cause” and may be merely a synonym for “reasonable suspicion.”

Moreover, federal statute authorizes law enforcement to obtain personal communications data if “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that data is “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation.” There’s no definition of relevancy, either. Relevancy, instead, is “generally understood” (the report’s words) to require “only that the information sought would tend to prove or disprove a fact at issue.”

In today’s surveillance world, that doesn’t serve as much of a check on government snooping. If agents believe your records of ordering pizza (or ordering pornography) may disprove or prove some fact at issue, then they’ll be sure to get those records.

Obama supporters sign petition to repeal the Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights repeal petition

We’re kidding….but not really.

Mark Dice, a controversial California-based conservative activist, recently visited a boardwalk with a phony petition, stopping bypassers to ask if they would be interested in signing a petition to help President Barack Obama repeal the Bill of Rights. Much to his surprise, many were willing to sign away their civil liberties without question.

This is actually depressing:

H/T: TheBlaze via The Right Scoop

Actor John Cusack not happy with media’s NSA coverage

John Cusack

Yes. We’re still talking about the NSA, the wide range of spying programs the agency continues to run and how Americans are handling the apparent incessant flow of leaks.

Just before enthusiastic reports concerning the NSA whistleblower’s whereabouts, the drama involving the plane carrying Bolivia’s president Evo Morales, and how France and Portugal refused to allow the plane to travel in their airspace came about, actor and producer John Cusack expressed heartfelt umbrage when asked how he felt about the media and its handling of the issues.

“Why are the red and blue elites in the establishment press so afraid of an informed public”? As a Freedom of the Press Foundation’s active board member, John Cusack expressed frustration with the media’s seemingly neglectful coverage of the NSA’s spying programs and distasteful approach to the whistleblower’s character during a recent phone interview.

According to Cusack, the media is doing a great job, if the its sole purpose is to assassinate the whistleblower’s character and avoid tackling the real issues.

Bipartisan group of Senators push NSA on book, gun data collection

A bipartisan group of 26 Senators, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), are urging the National Security Agency (NSA) to disclose whether they collected information related to book purchases, medical records, firearms sales and other third-party data.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to gain access to third-party data. While the information is supposed to be related only to specific investigations into terrorist activities, the NSA has been collecting phone records from virtually every American, even if they are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

“[W]e are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” wrote the Senators in the letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “Statements from senior officials that the NSA ‘[doesn’t] hold data on US citizens’ had the effect of misleading the public about how the law was being interpreted and implemented. This prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly.”

Bipartisan Effort Introduced to Reform the PATRIOT Act

It didn’t take long for a couple members of Congress to introduce legislation to reform the PATRIOT Act, the law at the heart of the recent NSA controversy. Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI) have introduced legislation that would reform Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to require intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain only records that are necessary to a specific investigation into terrorist activity:

An unlikely duo of a senior Democrat and young Tea Party Republican will introduce legislation on Friday aimed at reining in the government’s surveillance programs.

The LIBERT-E Act from Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) would narrow the Patriot Act to limit the government’s spying powers.

“Vacuuming up details from the lives of ordinary Americans is not what Congress signed on to when it enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the 1970s, or when it amended the law through the USA PATRIOT Act a decade ago,” the lawmakers wrote in a joint op-ed published in the Huffington Post and HotAir. “Many rank-and-file congressmen were shocked to learn that the law has been stretched to authorize such blanket surveillance.”
The Conyers-Amash bill would require the government to show “specific and articulable” facts that the records are material to the investigation and “pertain only to individuals under such investigation.”

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