Section 215

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Lawmakers targeting the NSA’s unconstitutional spying have a big card to play if Obama and Congress don’t get behind reform

Privacy advocates are closely watching discussions in the Senate over the USA FREEDOM Act, a measure originally intended to end the NSA’s unconstitutional bulk data collection program and protect Americans’ civil liberties. They’re hoping that a strengthened version of the bill will pass the Senate Judiciary Committee, and they may get their wish:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the lead Senate sponsor of the original USA Freedom Act, has repeatedly expressed disappointment in the House-passed version of the bill.

He has pledged to “fight for a stronger USA FREEDOM Act” that bans bulk data collection.

Other pro-reform committee members have joined Leahy’s calls.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he is “very hopeful” that Leahy will move ahead with his version of the USA Freedom Act.
[…]
Harley Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said these calls for stronger reforms from Senate Judiciary Committee members, including the Chairman, are “very encouraging.”

Geiger said he is “optimistic that they will make improvements to [the House-passed USA Freedom Act], but the precise nature of improvements is still being discussed.”

Today in Liberty: Remembering D-Day, 4 million uninsured Americans will pay Obamacare tax

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944

— Remembering D-Day: Seventy years ago today, Allied forces led by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower stormed the beaches of Normandy, beginning Operation Overlord, a two-plus month campaign to drive the Nazis out of France. As many as 5,000 Allied soldiers were killed on D-Day, including 2,000 Americans. You can check out more D-Day photos herehere, and here. And if you’re a history buff, you may want to watch The World Wars. It’s the cliff notes version and leaves a lot out, but it’s worth seeing.

Obama to call for an end to NSA bulk data collection

The New York Times reported late yesterday evening that President Barack Obama will supposedly call for an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program, leaving data in the hands of phone companies:

The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials.

Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of  court order.
[…]
The new type of surveillance court orders envisioned by the administration would require phone companies to swiftly provide records in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received, the officials said.

They would also allow the government to swiftly seek related records for callers up to two phone calls, or “hops,” removed from the number that has come under suspicion, even if those callers are customers of other companies.

Intel chief: Maybe we should’ve told Americans we’re spying on them

The Obama administration’s chief intelligence official says that the backlash over the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs could have been avoided if the government had been transparent about what it was doing.

In an exclusive interview with Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the government should have come clean sooner about the snooping programs, rather than losing public trust due to disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will,” Clapper told Lake. “Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11 — which is the genesis of the 215 program — and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards…[w]e wouldn’t have had the problem we had.”

The comments are interesting because Clapper did have a chance to avoid the disclosures made by Snowden in March 2013. During an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Clapper if the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”

“No, sir,” replied Clapper, adding “[t]here are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

Lawmakers threaten not to renew controversial PATRIOT Act provision

Several members of the House Judiciary Committee threatened on Tuesday to let a controversial section of the PATRIOT Act expire next year if the Obama administration doesn’t significantly reform the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection program:

Members of the House Judiciary Committee said Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire in the summer of 2015, will be dissolved unless the administration proposes broad changes to the NSA’s collection of phone records.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who wrote the Patriot Act and its two reauthorizations, told Deputy Attorney General James Cole that the administration was on the hook to find a workable alternative.

“Section 215 expires in June of next year,” Sensenbrenner said. “Unless Section 215 is fixed, you, Mr. Cole, and the intelligence community will end up getting nothing because I am absolutely confident that there are not the votes in this Congress to reauthorize 215.”

Review board: NSA surveillance phone illegal, recommends end to program

President Barack Obama’s case continuing the phone metadata collection program took another hit on Thursday. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an executive-level panel created in 2004, has determined that the program is illegal and that the collection of Americans’ phone metadata should come to end:

An independent executive branch board has concluded that the National Security Agency’s long-running program to collect billions of Americans’ phone records is illegal and should end.

In a strongly worded report to be issued Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) said that the statute upon which the program was based, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program.”
[…]
The divided panel also concluded that the program raises serious threats to civil liberties, has shown limited value in countering terrorism and is not sustainable from a policy perspective.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”


The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.