Ron Wyden

Are the NSA data collection programs hurting the economy?

What happens when businesses aren’t able to provide the service that customers were promised? That’s right: customers get mad.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published a report indicating that the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance programs aren’t simply putting an end only to our privacy rights; they are also causing major damage to the economy.

Once revelations surfaced and the public was made aware that the spying programs were collecting phone and Internet data from average Americans, major sectors of the U.S economy started to feel the financial damage caused by the loss of consumer confidence. According to EEF, companies that have been compromised by the revelations regarding the surveillance programs are watching as U.S. trade partners simply distance themselves to avoid any potential problems or even lawsuits in the future.

Vodafone, a major European company, was on its way to becoming a sister company to AT&T, whose desire to purchase the European giant was well documented, until the moment details concerning the NSA’s data-collection programs came to light. According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T could face major issues trying to purchase Vodafone since the company has been under scrutiny for participating in the NSA’s surveillance programs.

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.

It’s time to bring down SOPA and PROTECT IP

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been keeping you up to date on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). While its supporters say that the legislation is needed to safeguard intellectual property rights and protect jobs, SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act (it’s Senate counterpart) would fundamentally change the Internet by censoring websites that purportedly enable copyright infringement or piracy.

There are many who will deny that piracy is a growing problem, but the answer to the problem is not SOPA, PROTECT IP, or any other bill that would promote government censorship of the Internet and, as Mark Lemley, David Levine, and David Post have noted, remove due process protections for sites accused of copyright infringement. These bills would also tinker with DNS filtering, which would block “offending” websites from being accessed by Internet service providers.

As you can imagine, the consequences of these two bills has many websites owners on edge. The prospect of an entire site being essentially wiped off of the web due to a single instance of copyright infringement, even if it’s unintended, has many ready to fight back. That’s why today many big names are either blacking out their sites in protest of SOPA/PIPA — among them are Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, and Wordpress.org. Others, such as Google, are hoping to educate vistors of the dangers of these two bills.

List of Pols against #SOPA Blows My Mind

I’ve been following the progress of the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” or SOPA, also known as the “Internet Blacklist Bill,” for some time now, but haven’t posted about it because I feel that other websites cover it far better. Recently, though, I’ve seen some news I feel I have to share to United Liberty readers, because it comes straight from the “Holy Crap I Never Saw THAT Coming!” department.

For a good summary of why SOPA is a bad law, you should read the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s explanation. You can also grab the actual text of the law here. In effect, the bill would criminalize “casual piracy”—linking a music video on Facebook would land you some stiff penalties, as well as penalties for Facebook. Goodbye Youtube, as well. For that reason, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, Google, and a host of other Internet giants have come out against the bill, in addition to groups like EFF, DemandProgress, CreativeCommons, and Mozilla.

Keep the Internet tax-free: Conservatives urge the Senate to permanently extend the Internet tax moratorium

A coalition of more than 40 conservative and libertarian organizations and entities have written a letter to members of the United States Senate urging them to pass S. 1431, the Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act, a measure sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John Thune (R-SD) that would permanent extend the tax moratorium on Internet access.

In July, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3086, the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, to ensure that access to the Internet will never be subject to local, state, and/or federal taxes. Unfortunately, the measure has been stalled in the Senate, where some members, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), are trying to attach the so-called “Marketplace Fairness Act” to it.

The Marketplace Fairness Act is, basically, the Internet sales tax. The legislation, backed by brick-and-mortar retailers, would allow states to tax Internet purchases from businesses without a physical presence within their borders. Needless to say, attaching this measure to another one that promotes tax freedom makes no sense. But, well, we’re talking about Washington.

The coalition* — which includes Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Phil Kerpen of American Commitment, and Norman Singleton of Campaign for Liberty — urges senators to pass a clean version of the Internet tax moratorium.

Today in Liberty: Obama still avoiding border visit during fundraising trip, Ted Cruz is really not happy with the NRSC

“There is something fundamentally unfair about a government that takes away so much of people’s money, power, and personal control while telling them that life will be better as a result.” — Steve Forbes

— Obama will discuss border crisis in Texas, but won’t visit the border: Facing increasing political pressure over the “humanitarian crisis” (his words) at the United States’ Southwest border, President Barack Obama will meet with local officials and church leaders to discuss the issue today in Dallas. But he still won’t visit the border during the two-day swing in which he’s set to raise money for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “The roundtable discussion in Dallas is seen by the White House as a way to address the immigration issue while avoiding awkward optics at the border,” the Associated Press explains. “Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have arrived there in recent months, many fleeing violence in Central America, but also drawn by rumors that they can stay in the U.S. White House officials say most are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief and will be sent back to their home countries.” The meeting is going to provide more fodder for congressional Republicans as well as Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), who has asked President Obama to visit the border during his trip to the Lone Star State. Pundits on MSNBC’s Morning Joe suggested on Wednesday that President Obama could offend the Democratic Party’s base if he visited the border.

Today in Liberty: Intel agencies conducted warrantless searches for Americans’ communications, Halbig case could gut Obamacare

“I think that you can’t start to pick apart anything out of the Bill of Rights without thinking that it’s all going to become undone. If you take one out or change one law, then why wouldn’t they take all your rights away from you?” — Bruce Willis

Today in Liberty: Email privacy reform bill hits the magic number, Senate Conservatives Funds goes on the air for Chris McDaniel

“Since this is an era when many people are concerned about ‘fairness’ and ‘social justice,’ what is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?” — Thomas Sowell

— Email Privacy Act hits majority support: We mentioned in Tuesday’s Today in Liberty that the Email Privacy Act was very close to 218 cosponsors, a majority of the House of Representatives. Well, it happened. “The Email Privacy Act from Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) gained its 218th cosponsor late on Tuesday, giving the sponsors hope that the bill could move this year,” The Hill reports. “The sponsors have been talking with House leadership and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) about moving the bill forward, according to Yoder.” The Email Privacy Act would close a loophole in the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows law enforcement agencies to access emails and other electronic communications older than 180 days without a warrant.

NSA exploiting loophole to search for Americans’ communications

When President Barack Obama stood before the media to defend NSA’s surveillance programs in June, his words reassured Americans that federal agents were not listening to their calls and that the content of their emails was not being read. He stated that the only thing that the agency was actually doing was to look at the duration of calls and specific phone numbers.

By suggesting that the NSA was not capable of examining the contents of emails and calls, President Obama misled the population, or at least that’s what a letter written by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has confirmed.

According to the letter sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the NSA used legal authority to obtain data and search for Americans’ details within the agency’s database. According to Clapper, the queries into details pertaining to US persons that were used to obtain further information on non-US persons were carried out lawfully. All procedures were reportedly consistent with what FISA court had already approved.

According to Clapper’s letter, looking for specific data on foreigners by performing searches that made contents of emails and phone records of US persons accessible is also consistent with the fourth amendment.

Section 702 of the FISA Amendment Act covers most of the bulk collection of records carried out by the NSA. According to Clapper’s interpretation of the Section 702, agents can collect data pertaining to phone or email of US persons without an individual warrant. This procedure takes place when agents have reasons to belief foreign persons are holding the communications as well.


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