After The Guardian reported that only 1 percent of the files leaked by Edward Snowden have been published, the Washington Post reported that the NSA also tracks location data from mobile phone users around the world, allowing the agency to gather “nearly 5 billion records a day.”
The NSA is able to do that because it manages to tap into the mobile networks’ cables that happen to serve worldwide cellphones as well as U.S. phones. The NSA does that to collect information regarding its targets.
With this data in its power, the NSA locates and analyzes data from cellphones anywhere in the world. This represents an effort that might have no matching historical precedent since analysts can use this data to retrace cellphones’ movements and uncover potential relationships among users anywhere.
Elements of the intelligence community are not collecting the bulk cellphone location data intentionally, according to Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA. But the NSA collects this information anyway, mainly because one of the agency’s most powerful analytic tools, the CO-TRAVELER, can search unknown associates of intelligence targets by tracing intersecting cellphones.
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.
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.
Hillary Clinton is starting a whirlwind tour to promote the concept of trusting the government, and touting the merits of transparency in government. While it might be very tempting to consider this a really ironic punchline of a joke, that’s really what the former Secretary of State is doing.
On a practical level, it does make some sense that Hillary would consider it necessary to restore the nation’s faith in its government. As to whether or not she really “gets” why she is absolutely the wrong person to attempt to deliver that message will undoubtedly remain a mystery. Yes, it is very likely that detractors from the right will regularly lampoon her with comments including her infamous statement on Benghazi - “What difference does it make?” That will be enjoyable in the short term, but given the nature of the public and mainstream media, it is foolish to expect that will be enough to defuse her attempts to lie her way to a reasonable chance at seating herself in the Oval Office.
Make no mistake, that is exactly what this tour is about. It has nearly nothing to do with its stated aim. Hillary will be out there making it clear that while she’s somewhat the same as her former boss, she isn’t for the cloak and dagger activities of this administration that have been called “phony scandals” in an attempt to keep them out of the public eye. If that isn’t her gameplan, then she really doesn’t have any intention of running in 2016.
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.
MapLight, a Berkeley-based non-profit, was recently involved in an investigation set out to identify the factors that influenced many House Republicans, which eventually translated into a failure to vote in support of the Amash-Conyers amendment. The investigation demonstrates that defense money, not party affiliation, might have had plenty to do with how members of the House voted on the Amash amendment; more than one would like to think.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was able to cross party lines and combine an impressive number of supporters to support his amendment, which was formulated to keep the NSA from collecting data from innocent Americans. In spite of the productive campaign, Rep. Amash’s amendment failed. Once MapLight researchers took a closer look at the financing data concerning the top defense contractors in the country, they found that House members who voted to continue the controversial NSA spy programs, reportedly received $41,635 each on average from defense and intelligence firms and the $12.97 million these firms gathered within a 2-year period ending December 31, 2012.
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.”
The truth is simple: if you have a problem, the market will always have a handy and awfully competent solution ready at your disposal at a much faster rate than any elected official can utter the word “bill.”
Forbes has reported that once NSA was a household acronym for folks across America, companies like the Maryland-based firm known as Silent Circle, became much better known for their newly developed and commercialized systems, which were designed to address mobile security concerns and offer solutions to those who are worried about having their privacy violated by the government.
While the technologies are also available at a consumer level, Silent Circle’s CEO is surprised to see a major increase in the interest from major businesses.
The sales of Silent Circle’s mobile security services have now increased dramatically. According to Forbes, the company’s monthly revenue increased about 400% as soon as reports concerning the documents leaked by Edward Snowden hit the news.
Koolspan is another company that is also reaping the benefits of the NSA scandal. Silent Circle’s products offer a solution to mobile privacy concerns with software-based technology, while Koolspan offers a hardware-based chip system to provide smartphones with the type of protection most clients feel they deserve.
President Obama clearly believes what Nixon once said, that if the president does it, it’s not illegal. Now, he’s trying to circumvent the law that helps protect patient privacy in order to restrict millions of Americans from buying firearms.
President Barack Obama said he wants to see state governments contribute more names of people barred from buying guns to the database, part of a sweeping set of executive actions he announced after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.
The database, called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is used by gun dealers to check whether a potential buyer is prohibited from owning a gun.
States are encouraged to report to the database the names of people who are not allowed to buy guns because they have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, or have been found to have serious mental illnesses by courts.
Many states do not participate. So the administration is looking at changing a health privacy rule - part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) - to remove one potential barrier.
Here’s the problem with that. You see, the law actually prevents people who have been adjudicated from owning firearms. It says nothing about specific diagnosis. It requires a court to determine an individual is unfit to own firearms.
President Obama seeks to skirt two laws in one fell swoop.
Unsurprisingly, gun rights advocates have reacted, sending thousands of letters to the Health and Human Services Department. However, the department also received a number of comments from health professionals.