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May 22 2013

Bill Would Require Warrants for Seizing Phone Records

In the wake of the scandal over the DOJ’s seizure of the phone records of reporters from the Associated Press, a bipartisan group of legislators has submitted a bill to require that any such seizures can only be done pursuant to a warrant issued by a judge.

Currently, the Telephone Records Act allows the feds to demand phone records from service providers by using only an administrative subpoena to obtain basic subscriber information. Basic subscriber information can include a customer’s name, address, credit card number, and phone records.

The Telephone Records Protection Act consists of just one sentence amending that law (.pdf) and would force federal agencies to seek judicial review to obtain records in order to avoid a situation like the one that recently happened with the Associated Press.

The bill would protect the phone records of all Americans, not just journalists, and would require federal agencies to state “specific and articulable facts” to prove to a court that the records and information being sought is “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”…

The bill was introduced Thursday by representatives Justin Amash (R-Michigan), Zoe Lofgren (D-California), Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina), and Jared Polis (D-Colorado).

What are the chances that this law passes? Slim and none. And slim just left. There’s not a chance in hell. Because the leadership of both parties will prevent it from even getting a committee hearing, much less a floor vote, just as they’ve done with every other bill that would have restored some sort of meaningful checks and balances to the executive branch’s power to spy on American citizens. And just like they have pushed through the Patriot Act and several reauthorizations, the FISA Amendments Act and several other bills that undermine the 4th Amendment.

The American National Security State, complete with wholesale data mining, severe punishment for whistleblowers, intimidation of journalists who ask too many questions and a whole range of legal technicalities to prevent anyone whose rights have been violated from ever getting their day in court, is now a matter of bipartisan consensus. The Republican leadership in the House (Boehner and Cantor) and the Democratic leadership in the Senate (Reid, Schumer, and Feinstein) will make sure that the token opposition that will arise in both chambers (from Amash, Polis and maybe Rush Holt in the House; Rand Paul and maybe Ron Wyden in the Senate) is marginalized and ignored and any such bills get bottled up in committee.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    theschwa

    Whew! That was a close one. The terrorists almost won a round. USA!!

  2. 2
    Gregory in Seattle

    The irony being that the warrantless seizures had been authorized by Congress “for the sake of national security,” and by pretty much the same gang that’s screaming right now.

    I do find myself wondering: is the scramble to end government abuse

    A. because a Democrat has the audacity to use powers designed to be used by a Republican;

    B. because a black man has the audacity to use powers designed to be used by a white man; or

    C. because the Associated Press — which had largely supported such abuses — has become the target and has now given re-election warning to members of Congress?

  3. 3
    heddle

    #2,

    I do find myself wondering: is the scramble to end government abuse… [A..C]

    How about:

    D. Because it is the right thing to do.

  4. 4
    karmacat

    If a senator or representative get 5 letters, they cosider that a landslide. If each person in each state gets 4 friends to write a letter with him/her it could be helpful. Although, I don’t have to much hope for this kind of issue. E-mail and on-line petitions probably have little impact. In any case, I am just thinking out loud and just hoping that something can be done to stop the erosion of our civil liberties

  5. 5
    captainoblivious

    And we see what Big Government brings us. You all must be so proud.

  6. 6
    d.c.wilson

    D. Because it is the right thing to do.

    Bwhahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!

    Good one, heddle!

  7. 7
    Artor

    Heddle; “D. Because it is the right thing to do.” Hah! You’re funny!

    Snark aside, I seem to recall that the NSA has giant server banks that store every phone call made in the US, with not only records of who called where, but petabytes (yottabytes?) of data recording every word spoken. Restricting the FBI to warrants and calling records seems pointless if they can just ask for more info from another federal agency that has all that data warrant-free. Not that the NSA has a record of being forthcoming with rival agencies, but this all seems like a dog and pony show.

  8. 8
    kermit.

    Appropriate nom de plume, Captain.

    Could you explain how this proposed bill – or Obama’s continuing Bush policies – involves “Big Government”?
    .
    Dubya oversaw the biggest expansion of federal government since the FDR administration (who dealt with the Depression and World War II).
    .
    Carter: 8000 fewer federal employees at the end of his term.
    Reagan: increased 238,000 non-military federal employees.
    Bush I: reduced non-military federal employees by 30,000.
    Clinton: 380,000 fewer non-military.employees.
    Bush II: increased non-military employees by 53,000.
    Obama still in office. As of a few months ago, we had about 300,000 more federal employees, mostly in Defense, DHS, Justice, SS, and Veterans’ Affairs. This includes military, but I doubt that the military has grown much since 2008. On the other hand, the demographics is aging, and there are many more retired people now.
    .
    Are you arguing that we have too many people working? Each of these presidents had unique problems and advantages, and they are difficult to compare with such a simple metric, no matter much they may be preferred by simple minds.

  9. 9
    Abby Normal

    The American National Security State, complete with wholesale data mining, severe punishment for whistleblowers, intimidation of journalists who ask too many questions and a whole range of legal technicalities to prevent anyone whose rights have been violated from ever getting their day in court, is now a matter of bipartisan consensus.

    This may be the single most bone-chilling sentence I’ve ever read on this blog, not least of all because of its restraint. There are so many more injustices that could have been easily included, from the militarization of the police, to civil forfeiture, to privatized prisons, to the outright assassination of American citizens. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Orwell was an optimist.

  10. 10
    kermit.

    Typo – Obama has seen an increase in about 30,000 federal jobs. So far.

  11. 11
    jnorris

    And the federal government already has a special court system in place to get warrants for intelligence gathering. Image that.

  12. 12
    Barefoot Bree

    Ed, I love you, but sometimes you make it real hard to be optimistic about the future.

  13. 13
    Ichthyic

    The irony being that the warrantless seizures had been authorized by Congress “for the sake of national security,” and by pretty much the same gang that’s screaming right now.

    phone records, AFAIK, never required new legislation, since they were never considered “seizures” to begin with.

    Intelligence agencies and police can request phone records from phone providers at any time, without a warrant. I have no idea how long it has been this way in the US; probably since the beginning of telecom itself, but I note it’s the same here in NZ. This said, the providing of such information without a warrant, also means it cannot be used in court as evidence. Instead, it is used to figure out where to focus further police/intelligence efforts to begin with. Again, this is why it DOESN’T require a warrant.

    on top of that, I will bet money this legislative effort will go nowhere. Partly because of what I just said, and partly because of the fact that as you note, ACTUAL warrantless seizures have already been approved by Congress ( nd fuck me, but look to be soon approved here in NZ as well :( ), and nobody will want the debate about this bit of legislation to get that approval examined closely.

  14. 14
    Ichthyic

    Are you arguing that we have too many people working?

    are you arguing that the DHS is the best way anyone could figure to stimulate jobs economy?

    really?

    hell, both Roosevelt and Eisenhower did better than that.

  15. 15
    Ichthyic

    Hey, Fox News is saying people should punch Obama supporters in the face over this:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/05/23/fox-news-host-tells-listeners-to-punch-obama-voters-in-the-face/

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