Momentum builds against U.S. government surveillance

“The movement to crack down on government surveillance started with an odd couple from Michigan, Representatives Justin Amash, a young libertarian Republican known even to his friends as ‘chief wing nut,’ and John Conyers Jr., an elder of the liberal left in his 25th House term,” Jonathan Weisman reports for The New York Times. “But what began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House.”

“The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage,” Weisman reports. “Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.”

Weisman reports, “Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, have begun work on legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance. Mr. Sensenbrenner said on Friday that he would have a bill ready when Congress returned from its August recess that would restrict phone surveillance to only those named as targets of a federal terrorism investigation, make significant changes to the secret court that oversees such programs and give businesses like Microsoft and Google permission to reveal their dealings before that court. ‘There is a growing sense that things have really gone a-kilter here,’ Ms. Lofgren said.”

“‘I represent a very reasonable district in suburban Philadelphia, and my constituents are expressing a growing concern on the sweeping amounts of data that the government is compiling,’ said Representative Michael G. Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican who represents one of the few true swing districts left in the House and who voted on Wednesday to limit N.S.A. surveillance,” Weisman reports. “Votes from the likes of Mr. Fitzpatrick were not initially anticipated when Republican leaders chided reporters for their interest in legislation that they said would go nowhere. As the House slowly worked its way on Wednesday toward an evening vote to curb government surveillance, even proponents of the legislation jokingly predicted that only the “wing nuts” — the libertarians of the right, the most ardent liberals on the left — would support the measure.”

Weisman reports, “Then Mr. Sensenbrenner, a Republican veteran and one of the primary authors of the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act, stepped to a microphone on the House floor. Never, he said, did he intend to allow the wholesale vacuuming up of domestic phone records, nor did his legislation envision that data dragnets would go beyond specific targets of terrorism investigations. ‘The time has come to stop it, and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment,’ Mr. Sensenbrenner said.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: United States Constitution, Amendment IV:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Join The Electronic Frontier Foundation in calling for a full congressional investigation here.

Related articles:
U.S. House rejects effort to curb NSA surveillance powers, 205-217 – July 24, 2013
Obama administration scrambles to shut down imminent U.S. House vote to defund NSA spying – July 24, 2013
Obama administration demands master encryption keys from firms in order to conduct electronic surveillance against Internet users – July 24, 2013
Apple, Google, dozens of others push Obama administration to disclose U.S. surveillance requests – July 19, 2013
Secret court agrees to allow Yahoo to reveal its fight against U.S. government PRISM requests – July 16, 2013
How Microsoft handed U.S. NSA, FBI, CIA access to users’ encrypted video, audio, and text communications – July 11, 2013
DuckDuckGo search engine surges 33% in wake of PRISM scandal – June 20, 2013
Yahoo: Since December 2012, we have received up to 13,000 U.S. gov’t requests for customer data – June 18, 2013
Apple: Since December 2012, we have received U.S. gov’t requests for customer data for up to 10,000 accounts – June 17, 2013
Nine companies, including Apple, tied to PRISM, Obama to be smacked with class-action lawsuit – June 12, 2013
U.S. lawmakers urge review of ‘Prism’ domestic spying, Patriot Act – June 10, 2013
PRISM: Do Apple, Google, Facebook have an ethical obligation not to spy on users? – June 8, 2013
Plausible deniability: The strange and unbelievable similarities in the Apple, Google, and Facebook PRISM denials – June 7, 2013
Google’s Larry Page on government eavesdropping: ‘We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday’ – June 7, 2013
Seecrypt app lets iPhone, Android users keep voice calls, text messages away from carriers, government eyes and ears – June 7, 2013
Obama administration defends PRISM data-collection as legal anti-terrorism tool – June 7, 2013
Facebook, Google, Yahoo join Apple in sort-of denying PRISM involvement – June 7, 2013
Report: Intelligence program gives U.S. government direct access to customer data on Apple servers; Apple denies – June 6, 2013

44 Comments

  1. It will always be the case that much is classified that need not be classified. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is how much is classified that needs not to be classified if we want to be a democracy.
    — Daniel Ellsberg, in conversation with investigative journalist Brad Friedman on KPFK/Pacifica Radio

  2. Tough Call. I do like making it difficult for Terrorists to operate in the US. Pointless loss of life for some A hole to get 21 virgins in his next life, well some phone records and electronic crunching of data doesn’t seem like a huge price to pay. I’d be OK if this thing were reveiwed and reapproved on an annual basis.

      1. IOW:
        And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
        O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

        Blanket surveillance, without probable cause, of US citizens on US soil is ALWAYS illegal and unconstitutional. No exceptions, not ever.

        Go somewhere else if you prefer to be surveilled by your government without probable cause.

        1. Not my problem.

          But I will hazard a guess that a large number of these Second amendment experts are NOT expert on their rights afforded by the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution.

          Therefore, the need to educate.

          The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution:
          The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

          Benjamin Franklin direct quote:
          They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

          Or, alternatively, we could just shut it all down, the terrorists win. Seriously. What would be a greater coup for the terrorists than their actions turning the USA into a police state? Hmm? I don’t like that. 😛

          1. “Not my problem”? Seeing as that makes your previous comment about needing a citizen militia less ironic/sarcastic, the fact that those most likely to form the bulk of such a militia (non-libertarian “conservatives”) are the least likely to do so seems like a problem. And they are also least likely to desire being educated on the rest of the constitution and its amendments.

            1. Not disagreeing with your premise at all, just that you suggested a solution (assuming it wasn’t sarcastic/ironic), I pointed out a major obstacle in doing so, and then your next reply starts with “not my problem”. Obviously it’s not your problem/responsibility to personally to try educating them, nuts or not, but it’s still a fundamental problem with your proposed solution, that’s all I was meant.

            2. Sorry. I now comprehend.

              I wasn’t serious, but I did want to crack a new thought into people’s heads. The 2nd Amendment is specific to the importance of US militias in keeping the USA safe from invaders, etc. How utterly ironic that the USA is being invaded and overthrown from WITHIN.

              So where are all the 2nd Amendment defenders? Happy to have guns but not take the responsibility for protecting our nation?

              It’s all too sick and stupid IMHO. I obviously stick my neck out to counter anti-constitution crime. I wish the rest of my nation would as well, yesterday if not sooner.

            3. The firearms enthusiasts I know are well versed on the Constitution and the law. One does not carry a concealed weapon without being well versed in the law. One does not open carry on the streets of Portland or Seattle, and encounter the local law enforcement thugs without a solid grounding in the Constitution and weapons laws. “Am I free to go?” and “Am I being detained?” are magical legal questions with which a well educated person can exercise his or her constitutional rights. It is not the little people of the political Right who support the Patriot Act. It is the cowering, fearful drones of the Left and the Middle, who don’t want to contemplate defending themselves from bad guys, and who are in denial of the real world, both at the street crime level and the governmental level. To them, everything is a conspiracy theory proposed by nut cases. There’s no constitutional crime going on. The government is our friend and is here to protect us. Street crime happens to someone else, someone less careful, less upright, less informed, less politically correct. It could never happen to me. As for our government, it is different from EVERY OTHER GOVERNMENT THAT HAS EVER EXISTED. It will not turn on us and enslave us. That is what they think and say if you ever awaken them from their media induced stupor.

            4. You were just doing fine until you started that silly anti-left/middle BS.

              Your attempt to absolve the right wing from any responsibility for this mess is utterly transparent revisionist history at its worst.

              The Patriot Act *started* under a Republican administration and congress, and used post-9/11 “you’re with us or against us” fear tactics to prevent any rational debate on the matter. It was the left/middle/libertarians who rang alarm bells about the Act’s constitutional violations a decade ago, and were called traitors and worse by every level of the right, including the “little people of the political Right.”

              And now you want to join the bandwagon? Welcome on board, why did it take you 10 years? Oh of course, because the Obama administration supports it now.

              More recently, a larger majority of the Republican party than Democrats voted against an amendment *by a fellow Republican* that would have hindered the NSA’s ability to continue domestic spying. Have fun explaining that one.

            5. I voted FOR Obama TWICE, specifically because I hated what the Republican leadership had done with the Patriot Act. It was only AFTER the last election that Obama took the gloves off and that the NSA was exposed by Snowden. I’m a strict Constitutionalist. I don’t care what regime is in power. If they abuse the law I will denounce them, just as I denounced Bush for 8 years.

            6. That’s nice, so just the bandwagon part of my last comment no longer applies. This makes your attempt to exclude the “little people” on the right from their original (and still ongoing, based on comments here and elsewhere) support for the Patriot Act and its offshoots even more of a head-scratcher.

            7. The patriot act was passed by the US Senate with 98 aye votes, so don’t go down the road of partisan claims that it was a “Republican” or right wing plot. There was ONE abstention and one no vote. So drop your HOLIER THAN THOU crap. When it cam time to expand the Patriot Act in 2006, even Senator Barack Obama cast one of his few non-present votes of “Aye” approving its renewal and extension!

              During the Bush years the Act was used mostly against person actually in contact with foreign nationals suspected of terrorism, not everyone in the US and elsewhere using electronic communications.

              @ Derek Currie, if you think the 2nd Amendment’s Militia is referencing protection against foreign invaders, may I suggest you read the Federalist Papers? That was NOT the purpose. . . and consider exactly who the founders EXCLUDED from membership in said Militias. Public officers, bureaucrats, government officials, etc., because THEY were whom the Militia were partly target toward. The founding fathers wanted the people always to be able to mount another revolution should one become necessary. It is obvious in their writings. They did NOT want a standing army more powerful than the citizenry for the same reason. They feared foreign invasion very little. They had a three thousand mile MOAT between them and anyone capable of such an invasion. They feared the tyranny they themselves might impose. . . and put in place a safeguard. The 2nd Amendment guarantees the other nine in the Bill of Rights.

            8. Swordmaker, take your time and read my reply and more importantly what I was replying to. It should be obvious the one being holier than thou and partisan was Zeke, who wrote in such a way as to exclude Republicans and the “little people on the right” from any responsibility whatsoever for the Patriot Act and its continued existence, blaming only the left and middle. Since, as you and I actually agree, all sides were and continue to be complicit, Zeke’s comments (despite his later claim to have voted for Obama twice) were either very poorly written, or complete BS, either way it needed correcting.

            9. @Mossman, you misunderstand. I never excused the Republican party and politicians for the Patriot Act. Most of the common folk I know who identify as Republicans are, and were against the act even under Bush. I cited the Left and the Middle as being the home of most of those who now argue that it’s OK if the government spies on us without probable cause if we are kept safe from terrorist threats. I voted for Obama as a former Republican so disenchanted with the Patriot Act that I took a chance on Obama rather than endorse the Republican agenda any further. I know many, many people who were once Republicans who felt the same way. Obama proved to be a worse choice than Bush was.

            10. Zeke, I have seen that firsthand, as a good friend who voted Obama through both elections argues in favour of the domestic spying system now. I am quite disappointed in him, actually.

              Many vocal right supported Bush through his two terms, and went through considerable mental gymnastics to justify their support for him, rather than admit they made a mistake voting for him. Now many vocal left do the same with Obama. They’re all wrong. I opposed it under Bush, I oppose it now under Obama… for what little that’s worth as an outsider.

              Ironic, isn’t it… a non-American caring more about America’s original ideals than many Americans seem to.

            11. Sounds to me like you are the one who is in denial, if you say “the government is our friend.” What rock have you been living under?

              Just so you know, the “magical questions” you refer to, while legitimate, are ignored by the NYPD. When protesters are trapped (kettles is the term here, based on the orange “kettling” net they use), they ask the police: “Are we free to go? Are we being detained?” The police do not answer. If the protesters then try to leave, they are grabbed, thrown to the ground, often beaten, then dragged away to jail. The police then commit perjury to press charges. Often the defendant is in a bad position in life where they find it safer to plead guilty to something minor (violation instead of misdemeanor) or take an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal – in other words “don’t get arrested for 6 months and this goes away completely”) instead of going to trial and risking conviction based on perjurious police testimony.
              MAYBE, if there is good video available, it is worth it to go to trial and be found not guilty. Even then, the likelihood that the police officer will be charged for perjury is extremely low. Maybe, after being found not guilty (and having a big chunk of a year or two of your life eaten up), you can then dedicate another year or two suing the city. You might get $25,000 or so out of it for false arrest. The NYPD doesn’t feel that at all and goes on behaving the same way. The City has a fund set aside for paying out settlements for NYPD abuse, but there is no penalty to the folks running the NYPD. It is understood that the fund is there to pay out for the “necessary” side effects of their tacitly-approved abuse of people’s rights.

              So, theoretically those words are magical as far as what may happen in court long after your encounter with the police, and speaking as an attorney (but NOT yours – this is not legal advice!), you are wise to use them (along with “I do NOT consent to this search!” and “I choose to remain silent!” and “I want to speak with my attorney!”), but the police will do what they want when they confront you. In many jurisdictions they will face little to no punishment for violating your rights. They may even be promoted for shutting down a lawful, but annoying to the powerful, protest.

            12. You must have missed the part of my comment where I specified, “To THEM…” the government is our friend.

              As for illegal actions by the police, yes, there’s not much to be done about the police deliberately violating the law and the Constitution by addressing their actions directly. Those responsible for fostering those actions need to be held accountable. As long as NewYorkers keep electing people like Bloomberg they will get what they deserve, which is police abuse.

            13. @Zeke:
              Didn’t realize how much of your comment the “to them” referred to. Your post makes a lot more sense to me now.
              By the way, the police abuse tends to be targeted at people with less money, and thus less political power. Bloomberg has been elected multiple times (and even removed a term limit to get his most recent term!) because the rich people wanted him in office. They used their money to dupe enough other people to vote for him. This isn’t an NYC-specific problem.
              People without money also are often people who are barely surviving while working one or more jobs, which makes it hard to engage in politics. I know activists that are homeless or otherwise poor who are doing a lot to fight corruption, but that isn’t an easy decision to make (especially for people with kids).
              The problem isn’t as simple as who you vote for – often all the choices on the ballot are pre-screened bad choices.
              You probably know all this, but I’d encourage you to consider that the fix often isn’t as easy as “make better choices on election day.” Peaceful direct action is needed. I hope the US turns things around while that still works.

        2. Perhaps some who pay lip service (“common sense gun legislation” proponents) to the 2nd Amendment support this crap. But the firearms community does not. The overwhelming majority (like 99%) are tearing their hair out over this. This surveillance is clearly and simply illegal. The law that authorizes it is unconstitutional. Our representatives no longer care what we think. They are bent on consolidating power for the military-industrial complex, and nothing else. The corporatists who suck at the defense contracting teat love this. Corporations do not have constitutions, morals, ethics, or consciences. Power, control, and profits are all they understand.

      1. We generally call those folks “gun nuts”. I’ve always thought that the government they’d most likely need to defend against is one controlled by the same group that panders to them and are the authors of the original Patriot Act. All liberals want to do is talk and compromise until a reasonable solution is reached. All conservatives want to do is be in control.

          1. I agree. They’re trying to read the tea leaves and do what’s most likely to get them reelected. But who can we chose? The radical right? The moderate right that lives in fear of the radical right? The go with the flow left.

            Until we get a situation whereby members of Congress have nothing to lose by doing the right thing, we’re pretty screwed.

  3. I must point out that NO legislation is required to defend the US Constitution. Impeachment, arrests, lawsuits, trials and jail are required to defend the US Constitution. It’s time all the perpetrators of PRISM were locked up as CRIMINALS.

    Those criminals currently include:
    1) The US Executive Branch, who run the NSA.
    2) The FISA Courts who are puppeted by and enabling the NSA’s crimes.
    3) The US federal Congress who are unable to succeed in a simple majority vote to defend the US Constitution.

    Why is my government F*CKING itself all to hell?

    For review, The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution:
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Benjamin Franklin, direct quote:
    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

    1. The government envisioned by the Founding Fathers did not involve paying Congress for anything more than their travel and lodging expenses. Now that we have installed a Congress that is paid, out of our pockets, at a level that puts them in the top 10% of wage earners in the country, we have people who will do anything to keep those jobs. It is their primary goal. The money that backs them wants predictable performance, so they go with their trained servants. The bulk of the people are non-players in this scheme of things. The only thing they haven’t succeeded in taking away from the majority of Americans is their votes and they are working on that.

  4. Technically as the amendment is written what the US government is doing is not really a violation the IV Amendment. What theUS government is doing would be the equivalent of asking the postman to record the Addressee and return address of each envelope and package he picks up and delivers. The US postal service does this to some extent anyway. They have used this information to identify and arrest people involved in child pornography. The information (metadata) intercepted by the NSA is transmitted over a combination wired wireless network with the spectrum made available by the government. The data is not on anyone’s person dwelling or equipment when it is intercepted. The actual communication is encrypted while in transit at least in emails and text messages. Law enforcement has been bugging phones of drug dealers for decades, that is how the market for burners got started.

    1. I’m guessing there was an element of “probable cause” in your alleged success stories regarding USPS. I suspect the USPS collection and recording of To and From addresses would have to be directed in the postal regulations or some legislation. Do you have a citation on that?

      Law enforcement wiretapping was only done with court orders, at least prior to the Patriot Act. The reason was the goal was to collect evidence to enable successful prosecution of law breakers in court.

      This secret surveillance is dangerous, in that the goal is no longer a successful court prosecution. It is identification and selection of the next target.

    2. What makes you think the US Government provides the Internet or even the airwaves? Very little of the data is transmitted over what you claim is “spectrum made available by the government.” On the contrary, the data is most often transmitted over wired and glass cable owned by private telecommunications companies, beamed to privately owned satellites via microwave transmissions, laser, etc., but hardly government provided means. Even the “spectrum” is only “limited” and “regulated” but not “made available” by the government. The courts have actually ruled that signals are NOT FREE for the taking just because they are broad or narrowcast on the airwaves (see the numerous lawsuits dealing with people “stealing” premium TV channels by just hanging their own “unauthorized” antenna pointed in the right direction before ubiquitous cable was installed and micro-dishes were the main method of receiving HBO and Cinemax).

      As for your analogy of crime wire tapping and mail searches: The mail and phones of those drug dealers could ONLY be accessed AFTER the government’s executive branch agents went hat in hand to a judge with a specific request naming the data they were seeking and the phones and mail to be accessed, and the specific crime the persons involved were suspected to be or have committed, and get a constitutionally permitted warrant allowing the seizure of the data. This is NOT analogous. Sorry, your comparison fails.

  5. Don’t get your hopes up.

    Americans have been successfully dumbed down to CHICKENSHIT, by Hollywood and the brainwash media.

    I mean it took Jiimy Carter to stand up to the crime gang occupying the White Hut.

    …now back to what’s happening with Kin Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo!

  6. I’m surprised its taken the American people so long. Don’t get me wrong, the NSA can try as much as they like to spy on me, as I’m a foreign national, and thus (though I like many Americans) a potential enemy of the US. But that quote MDN uses is serious. If you don’t get out on the street soon you’ll find yourself in a police state.

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