Transparency

Tech firms finally call for NSA surveillance reforms

After months of mostly silence on the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection programs, which includes obtaining information of Americans’ phone calls and Internet records, leading tech firms have finally spoken out and launched a campaign for reform.

A half dozen firms — including Facebook, Google, Twiter, and Microsoft — have written letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress in which they explain that the federal government must reform laws to protect Americans’ privacy. The firms have also launched a website — ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com — that outlines the principles of reform.

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” wrote the firms in the letter. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

“For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope,” the letter continues.

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.

Judge dismisses DOJ request end lawsuit over “Fast and Furious” documents

Attorney General Eric Holder might have a hard time keeping the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from browsing through the “Fast and Furious” documents now that a federal judge has rejected his request to dismiss the committee’s lawsuit.

The Justice Department had requested the U.S. District Court to dismiss the Committee’s lawsuit asking for access to the “Operation Fast and Furious” documents, which had been kept from Congress after President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over the records.

The president’s assertion was timely provided, given its stalling of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s investigation into “Fast and Furious,” which ultimately prompted Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-CA) to question Obama’s reasoning behind the delay to assert privilege over the documents. The President’s assertion of privilege over the documents happened exactly eight months after they were subpoenaed.

According to the investigators looking into the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercover operation known as “Operation Fast and Furious,” as many as 2,000 weapons might have ended up in the hands of narcotraffickers. Multiple crime scenes were connected to some of the weapons that might have been brought across the Mexican border as a result of the undercover operation.

While the DOJ confirmed its officials had turned virtually all records concerning the operation, but a letter sent to Congress on February 4, 2011 shows certain inconsistencies that worried Congressional investigators.

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.

Rand Paul Issues Second Letter Asking the FBI About its Drone Use

On March 6th, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) held a 13-hour long filibuster to rally against this administration’s threatening drone policy concerning the targeting of American citizens overseas. He also used the time he had to ask broader questions dealing with the potential targeting of Americans on U.S. soil, which weren’t fully answered.

On June 20th, Sen. Paul requested more answers concerning the current U.S. drone use. Unfortunately, the Senator did not obtain any responses to his first letter, which was directed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the official release, Sen. Paul questioned the FBI Director Robert Mueller on whether the agency is actively using drones without governance policy, which would be the only way to assure the lawful use of the unmanned devices is authorized.

With the first letter, Sen. Paul asked the FBI for details on the period in which drones have been in use by the agency, and accurate information on whether these devices are armed.

Sen. Paul has now issued a second letter since the FBI failed to provide answers to his questions after Robert Mueller testified before Congress on June 19th claiming that the FBI does operate done aircrafts.

Rand Paul, Tea Party Senators Stand Strong for the Constitution in Historic Filibuster

Rand Paul

“Epic,” “inspirational,” and “historic” are three words that best describe what I watched transpire on the floor of the United States Senate yesterday. At 11:47am, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) began his filibuster of John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, largely due to the lack of transparency from the Obama Administration on its drone program — specifically the targeted killing of Americans inside the borders of the United States.

The reasons that this gained so much interest was because it was an actual filibuster. This wasn’t a situation where Brennan couldn’t get 60 votes for cloture. Sen. Paul performed an old school filibuster, something that has become all too rare.

There was also another point that made this filibuster unique — Sen. Paul, along with several of his colleagues, spent nearly 13 hours talking substantive policy. There was no reading from a phone book or any other manner of time-buying tricks. Sen. Paul and others spent their time relaying a very pointed message about the Constitution, limits on executive power, and civil liberties.

For nearly 13 hours, Sen. Paul gave one of the most eloquent defenses of the Constitution that I’ve ever witnessed. He was joined at various times by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom spoke at length on the constitutional concerns over the policy.

Obama Lags House Republicans on Data Transparency

Written by Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

For the last two years, we have been working on the question of data transparency. In a paper last fall called Publication Practices for Transparent Government, we examined what it takes to foster transparency. And we started informally grading the quality of data put out by Congress and the administration. First, it was legislative data, which, as I reported here, needs improvement. (Also see our Capitol Hill briefing.) Then it was budget, appropriations, and spending data. In that area, “needs improvement” is an understatement. (And another Capitol Hill briefing.)

Podcast: HR 1207, BCS, New Stimulus Bill, Democrat Divisions, Health Care, Transparency, Guest: Luke Brady

Jason and Brett were joined by Luke Brady, contributor here at United Liberty, and our “go to” tech guy when it comes to this site.

Together, they discuss:

Podcast: Ft. Hood, Fuzzy Math on Saved/Created Jobs, Lack of Transparency, Unemployment Extension, Guest: Ron Davis

Jason and Brett were re-joined by Eric as they interviewed Ron Davis, founder of Uphold Liberty and Fire Senator.

This week, the foursome discuss these issues:

You can download the podcast here (73 minutes/67 MB). The introduction music is once again “Silence is Violence” by the always lovely Aimee Allen.

ReasonTV’s “Nanny of the Month” turns five with no shortage of state-loving nannies in sight

ReasonTV's September 2014 Nanny of the Month

“There oughta be a law.”

Not a day goes by when some state-loving government nanny somewhere doesn’t think those five words. The most famous government nanny to date is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose 12-year rein over America’s largest city ushered in countless government regulations, including more than 30 bans on things ranging to smoking in public to cell phones in schools.

Luckily, our friends at ReasonTV have — for five years this month — been calling out big government bureaucrats and their attempts to regulate everything from what we put in our bodies to what we put in our trash cans (really).

Their latest “Nanny of the Month” is the Borough Council in Helmetta, New Jersey, which wants to ban photography and filming in public buildings after an officer said on camera, ”Obama has decimated the friggin’ constitution, so I don’t give a damn… Because if he doesn’t follow the Constitution we don’t have to.”

It’s true. President Obama has “decimated the friggin’ constitution,” as even the New York Times admits. But the officer’s admission left Helmetta officials with egg on their faces.


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