Tag Archive: Section 215

Jun 01 2015

The Patriot Act Ain’t Dead Yet

While the Senate failed to pass the USA Freedom Act during Sunday’s emergency session, it did get past a cloture vote to continue debate and consider amendments that could either weaken or strengthen the already inadequate reform of the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act. So for the moment, the most egregious parts of the act which violate the Fourth Amendment have expired. So what next? There is no chance to renew the Patriot Act, as the Senate Republican leadership would prefer. Amending the US Freedom Act would necessitate the bill being returned to the House for another vote or hash out the details in a conference committee. None of this looks good for a resolution anytime soon, which is not entirely a bad thing.

McConnell introduced a handful of amendments Sunday evening on behalf of himself and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Paul and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also attempted to bring up amendments of their own, but they were blocked.

Paul’s opposition will push votes on both those amendments and the final bill back to Tuesday at the earliest, and potentially Wednesday.

The House would then either need to vote on the new bill or hash out the details in a conference committee.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) – an NSA critic – warned senators against adding amendments to the legislation that could potentially weaken the bill in the eyes of its supporters.

“On the House side, there’s not support for a more watered down version of the Freedom Act,” he said. “If they want to get something passed through the House, they need to make it better not worse.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald gave his reaction to the expiration of the act and the fear mongering that will ensue to Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman’



Transcript can be read here

The internecine GOP politics surrounding this are quite a maze since it involves not just Sen. Paul’s candidacy for president in 2016, but power fights between the House and Senate leaderships. Sen. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are not exactly best of friends.

The game is now in the Senate and could mean the permanent end of Section 215. Let’s keep our fingers crossed they screw this up.  

May 08 2015

NSA Bulk Phone Data Mining Illegal

A federal court ion New York has ruled that the National Security Agency’s mass phone data collection under the Patriot Act is illegal.

Ruling on a program revealed by former government security contractor Edward Snowden, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the Patriot Act did not authorize the National Security Agency to collect Americans’ calling records in bulk.

Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel that Section 215, which addresses the FBI’s ability to gather business records, could not be interpreted to have permitted the NSA to collect a “staggering” amount of phone records, contrary to claims by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan held back from saying it was unconstitutional, nor did it order a halt to the program which expires on June 1.

The ruling has sparked concern by the Department of Justice. Newly appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the DOJ was reviewing the decision calling it “vital tool in our national security.” One more reason this woman is unfit for AG.

The Senate has decided to delay its consideration of the long term renewal of the Patriot Act.

Now, with the relevant section of the Patriot Act due to expire at the end of the month, Republican leaders in Congress are scrambling to find a shorter-term fix to keep the programme alive as it looks likely that the court ruling will prevent them from securing the necessary votes for a full extension in the remaining six days of this legislative session. [..]

One option would be a one-month extension to get Congress past the 1 June deadline in exchange for Republicans allowing an alternative vote on the USA Freedom Act – a reform bill designed to replace NSA collection of telephone metadata with a scheme involving data retention by telephone companies instead.

But newly emboldened Democrats angrily denied rumours that they had agreed to such a deal on Thursday. [..]

Many of those in favour of reform believe their best chance of forcing the Republican leader Mitch McConnell into allowing a vote on the Freedom Act is the prospect of him failing to pass anything and forcing the NSA to totally shutdown the controversial programme first revealed by Edward Snowden.

Such a scenario would be preferable to many privacy campaigners, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which originally lodged Thursday’s court challenge.

But even a full reauthorisation of the Patriot Act would now require supreme court approval to be effective, argue campaigners.

Last week the House appeared ready to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act which would end the collection of metadata, a mere band-aid on the problem. It would still allow the N.S.A.’s ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists, but keep the bulk records in the hands of phone companies, which could dispose of them after 18 months. The N.S.A. currently stores them for five years. With the court ruling, that may no longer be an option.

Needless to say this has the neo-con fear mongers scrambling

A spokesman for McConnell’s office insisted he continued to back the Patriot Act renewal and pointed to support for its use by judges in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) courts that were designed to deal with such questions. “All the other courts, the Fisa courts, have ruled the other way,” he said.

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” the Arizona senator John McCain, a Republican, also told the Guardian. “I’m very concerned and it’s my understanding other courts have ruled otherwise.”

The problem with the argument about the “other Courts” is that the court they are talking about FISA has questionable constitutionality since it doesn’t fit the Article III and Fourth Amendment requirements.

And let us not forget 9/11

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina and an ardent supporter of the NSA, invoked the attacks on September 11 to emphasise the importance of the surveillance programmes.

“I’ve got one goal: if you need to reform the programme, great, I just don’t want to gut it,” Graham told the Guardian. “I would continue until someone told me to stop. I believe if the programme were in operation before 9/11, we probably would have prevented 9/11.”

Graham added that he found it hard to believe lawmakers would diminish the programme, given the current national security climate, “based on a court ruling that’s not binding”.

On other thing that the ruling inadvertently did was vindicated whistleblower Edward Snowden whose leak of the NSA program prompted to public discussion and legal challenges.

The ruling was discussed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and The Intercept journalist Glenn Grenwald on MSNBC’s “Now” host Alex Wagner.

What Charlie Pierce said

(T)he program has now faced the clear light of an open court and it has been judged in its operation to be at best a baroque overreach and, at worst, un-American. This debate always has been better conducted in the open. This is the case with almost any debate, but especially those that arise under the tremulous camouflage of National Security. If I thought courage was as contagious as fear, I’d be more optimistic. And, again, I point out that all this ever was about was what kind of government we would be willing to tolerate and still maintain our identity as a constitutional self-governing Republic, and that none of this happens without the intervention of Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage, and Glenn Greenwald, who is simply Not One Of Us.

Apr 10 2015

John Oliver Takes on Surveillance Reform

The battle over citizens’ right to privacy and the government’s mass collection of private data that has nothing to do with protecting the country from terrorist attacks, is coming to a head on June 1. That’s when the Patriot Act’s section 215, the provision of the act that the NSA used to authorize its bulk telephone metadata collection program, must either be renewed by congress or it expires. The problem is the lack of interest by the American public. In an extended segment of his HBO program, “This Week Tonight,” John Oliver found a subject that might pique their interest, “dick pics.” He presented his idea to Edward Snowden in a one on one exclusive interview.

So why all the trouble? In theory, Snowden’s revelations are old, they have proven to be either inaccessible or not titillating enough for the American public, and Oliver already covered the issue himself on the show in an interview with former NSA chief General Keith Alexander less than a year ago.

As it turns out, Oliver wasn’t satisfied. Using the June 1 expiration of controversial sections of the Patriot Act as a peg, Oliver decided to revive the conversation anew by highlighting one specific aspect of the surveillance issue that a majority of Americans could relate to.

And Sunday’s final product is earning Oliver plaudits across the Internet. In the interview, Oliver accomplishes several feats. He’s not only funny (Snowden apparently misses eating Hot Pockets, the sodium vehicle of the American freezer section), but also incisive and tough. [..]

But most notably of all, Oliver might finally have pinpointed a way to make the debate about surveillance accessible to a wide audience. By honing on one aspect of the government surveillance, the capacity for intelligence agencies to access “dick pics,” he captures the attention and summons the outrage of numerous passersby in a filmed segment in Times Square. Many of those interviewed can’t properly identify Edward Snowden or don’t quite recall what he had done, but all recoil at the thought of government access to intimate photography.

Thanks to John’s interview and the above viral video, which at this posting has

4,723,977 views, the movement to end mass surveillance has new life.

Privacy advocates experienced a major setback in November when a surveillance reform bill, the FREEDOM Act, died in a Senate procedural vote. But now they’re back, and with a new, simple question for Americans – Can they see your junk?

Playing off Oliver’s hilarious skit, one privacy activist built cantheyseemydick.com, which breaks down how each NSA program could be used to access private communications. Despite its flippant tone, the website offers simple explanations of complex programs that are difficult to understand.

On a more serious note, a new coalition of privacy groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today launched the Fight 215 campaign calling for an end to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

EFF activist Nadia Kayyali told TechCrunch the organizations launched the campaign today because of the impending deadline, but they were very excited about the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver skit and the attention it has already brought to surveillance reform.

With this campaign, the privacy advocates have taken a direct stance, end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. [..]

Even with the new public attention on surveillance reform, privacy advocates face an uphill battle in Congress. Although surveillance reform is an issue that does not fall squarely on party lines, reform efforts in the Democratic-controlled Senate last year were thwarted primarily by Republican votes. Now Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

As the June 1 deadline approaches, no one in Congress has laid out a comprehensive plan to address government surveillance this year. Kayyali attributes the lack of action on the Hill to uncertainty.

“I think a lot of people, including people who want to see good legislation passed, weren’t certain where to start from,” Kayyali said. “It’s hard to say what Congress is thinking.”

As members look to form that plan, Kayyali hopes the new campaign will send them a clear message.

EEF and thirty other civil liberties organizations have launched a call in campaign, Fight 215. They will help connect you to your representatives to tell them to end mass surveillance.

Call Congress Now

Urge them to end mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

What to say

Hi,

I’m one of your constituents, and I’m calling to urge you to end the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

NSA surveillance illegally invades my privacy, along with millions of other innocent people, without making me safer.

Ending phone record surveillance is the first step to reining in surveillance abuses by the NSA. The time to put pressure on congress is now.