phone records

House NSA reformer: “There’s more than enough votes to pass the FREEDOM Act”

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.

Proposed NSA reforms close one loophole while leaving others open

President Barack Obama rolled out a proposal earlier this week that would end the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk phone metadata collection program. The House Intelligence Committee has a proposal of its own purports to achieve the same end.

The proposal pushed by the White House has been received with cautious optimism from civil libertarians, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). They like what they’ve heard, but have explained that the devil is in the details.

Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have pointed out that there’s already a proposal in Congress, the USA FREEDOM Act, that would end bulk data collection. Privacy advocates, however, have panned the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, which is backed by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

In Wednesday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, discussed and dissected both President Obama and the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, finding them to be welcome news. But he also pointed out that both measures still leave open the possibility of access to Americans’ personal information.

Collection of Phone Records Expansion: Unintended Consequence of NSA Lawsuits

The government may have to expand its surveillance programs following news concerning several lawsuits filed against the NSA. Why? Because the NSA will have to avoid destructing phone records in order to preserve evidence requested by a number of lawyers involved in NSA-related lawsuits.

The unexpected change in plans would force the NSA to keep all phone records it collects, which would mean that the agency would have to expand its programs and database in order to respond to requirements put forward for litigation purposes.

ACLU’s lawyer Patrick Toomey, who’s involved in the lawsuit against the government’s unconstitutional surveillance programs, says that the lawsuit was filed precisely to ensure that the telephone data collection programs are not expanded, but ended for good. According to the lawyer, the government never discussed the possibility of an expansion of the data collection program just to respond to litigation requirements.

It would be especially difficult for anybody to consider the government would use this excuse to expand the program when President Barack Obama just ordered senior officials to leave the data collection to the phone companies that log the calls. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will have to give the heads up on expending the data collection program, which would not be a problem for the government.

Federal judge dismisses legal challenge to NSA surveillance

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.

White House releases brutal panel report on NSA spying

Just two days after a federal judge issued a scathing opinion in which he said the NSA phone metadata program is “likely unconstitutional,” the White House released the report from the five-member panel tasked with reviewing the agency’s data collection methods.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology recommending 46 changes, some of which are significant, to the how the NSA gathers intelligence. The suggestions in the 303-page report, Liberty and Security in a Changing World, are non-binding.

“We have emphasized the need to develop principles designed to create strong foundations for the future,” said the panel members a letter to President Barack Obama. “Although we have explored past and current practices, and while that exploration has informed our recommendations, this Report should not be taken as a general review of, or as an attempt to provide a detailed assessment of, those practices.”

“We recognize that our forty-six recommendations, developed over a relatively short period of time, will require careful assessment by a wide range of relevant officials, with close reference to the likely consequences. Our goal has been to establish broad understandings and principles that can provide helpful orientation during the coming months, years, and decades,” the members added.

Initial reports indicated that the panel would suggest that the agency dismantle its vast controversial and heavily criticized phone record database, which stores information on virtually every American. Indeed, the panel even says that “the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.”

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.

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.

Companies working with the NSA could get blanket immunity

National Security Agency HQ

The common American might be at a much more vulnerable spot now that Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, asked lawmakers for more authority in order to offer liability immunity to companies working closely with the National Security Agency in digital defense programs.

The change in law would allow for mistakes to go unaccounted for in case a company hits the wrong target while attempting to block the home base of a suspicious or seemingly threatening source. While this change in the law seems harmless to some, it could offer protection to companies that act on behalf of the agency, and leave innocent consumers without any access to legal recourse.

Congress was left with the duty of rethinking how private companies are held liable. According to POLITICO, a White House official assured that the Obama administration would be willing to accept a change in the law in order to maintain a company protected while participating in defensive countermeasures online. The source remained anonymous.

While many companies still fight to protect their reputation after news regarding the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs broke, the increased immunity would strip a firm’s only incentive to resist government pressure: its good name.

While certain companies still take their consumers’ privacy into consideration, some fear losing their strong presence in the market, which is why they might be welcoming to the change in the law. Some companies may see this as an opportunity to have their assets protected by avoiding being hit with lawsuits over possible target errors.

Why The NSA Collecting Your Phone Records Is A Problem

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

Privacy advocates and surveillance experts have suspected for years that the government was using an expansive interpretation of the Patriot Act’s §215 “business record” authority to collect bulk communications records indiscriminately. We now have confirmation in the form of a secret order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to Verizon — and legislators are saying that such orders have been routinely served on phone carriers for at least seven years. (It seems likely that similar requests are being served on Internet providers — increasingly the same companies that provide us with wireless phone services).

Some stress that what is being collected is “just metadata”—a phrase I’m confident you’ll never see a computer scientist or data analyst use. Metadata—the transactional records of information about phone and Internet communications, as opposed to their content—can be incredibly revealing, as the recent story about the acquisition of Associated Press phone logs underscores. Those records, as AP head Gary Pruitt complained, provide a comprehensive map of reporters’ activities, telling those who know how to look what stories journalists are working on and who their confidential sources are. Metadata can reveal what Websites you read, who you communicate with, which political or religious groups you’re affiliated with, even your physical location.

Senator Obama vs. President Obama on Government Surveillance

President Barack Obama and his apologists in Congress have launched a full-scale defense of his administration broad use the PATRIOT Act, through which the NSA is surveilling millions of Americans who have done absolutely nothing wrong. The reversal on the part of Obama is astonishing.

As the NSA scandal — and yes, it is a scandal — was breaking on Wednesday and into Thursday, news outlets began uncovering some of the past positions Obama took when he was a Senator and a presidential candidate. While his presidency has been more like George W. Bush’s third and fourth term, Obama once took a strong stand on civil liberties — believe it or not.

The Hill noted last week that then-Sen. Obama co-sponsored legislation in 2005 that would have banned the mass collection of phone records, like the NSA has done with Verizon. And during the summer of 2007, when he was campaigning for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Obama knocked the policies of the the Bush Administration and pledge that he would take a direction that respected civil liberties.


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