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Will Congress Reign In the NSA?

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a very far right congressman who wrote the Patriot Act, now says that he wants to pass legislation to restrain the business records provision that is being used to justify the seizure of metadata from all the major cell phone carriers (nope, not just Verizon; AT&T and Sprint are turning it over too).

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who helped draft the PATRIOT Act, is exploring options to narrow a provision of the law that allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to obtain telephonic metadata on nearly all Americans. The comments are the first indication that Congress may act to restrict the government’s ongoing data collection since the Guardian published a secret court order compelling Verizon to turn over its records on a “on an ongoing daily basis” and the Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T and Sprint are also sending their records to the government.

“I have a big problem because the business records part of the Patriot Act, which is what was used to justify this, was designed for specific investigations,” Sensenbrenner told Fox News on Friday. “We’re seeing big government in action, just like George Orwell predicted but maybe a few years later,” he added.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the government to order businesses to turn over “the production of any tangible things” if it can prove that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that the tangible things sought are “relevant to an authorized investigation . . . to obtain foreign intelligence information. . . or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” The government has been obtaining metadata records from telephone companies for years and has used three-month secret warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) court since 2006.

Sensenbrenner indicated that he will draft legislation to “change that part of the business records part of the Patriot Act before it expires in 2015″ to more narrowly tailor it and will question FBI Director Robert Muller about the program when he appears before Congress next week. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also plans to offer a bill designed to close the “business records” provision.

So what are the chances of such legislation actually passing? Not a chance in hell. Sensenbrenner won’t be able to get more than 15 or 20 Republican votes for such a bill, and that assumes that Boehner would even allow a vote on it, which is unlikely. And in the Senate, the Democrats in charge (Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein) are zealously defending the program along with leading Republicans like John McCain and Lindsay Graham. In the Senate, I doubt there are 10 votes to dismantle the program (Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, Bernie Sanders, maybe Patrick Leahy).

Comments

  1. Dennis N says

    Sensenbrenner does something not horrifying? is he feeling well?

    I doubt he cares about individuals being spied on. He only cares that government has a power over business. You’ll notice it doesn’t say anything about preventing the government from waking up to your house and tapping your phone or internet lines without a warrant. Only that it can’t tell corporations what to do.

  2. stever says

    Does anyone here believe that, whatever Congress (or the Supreme Court) does, those permanently-installed taps on telephone switches and ISP data centers will ever be turned off?

  3. says

    Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who helped draft the PATRIOT Act, is annoyed that the PATRIOT Act is being used.

    I have a big problem because the business records part of the Patriot Act, which is what was used to justify this, was designed for specific investigations,”

    But it is. Specifically, for all of them.
     

    So what are the chances of such legislation actually passing? Not a chance in hell.”

    Sure, but once Issa links this to Benghazi…

     
    stever “Does anyone here believe that, whatever Congress (or the Supreme Court) does, those permanently-installed taps on telephone switches and ISP data centers will ever be turned off?”
    Don’t be ridiculous. Of course they will be. Then they’ll split the program in two, give them new names, and turn them on again.

  4. jufulu says

    Corporations and businesses are people too. I demand that the they receive the same rights and privileges to be stalked as we do.

  5. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    In the Senate, I doubt there are 10 votes to dismantle the program (Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, Bernie Sanders, maybe Patrick Leahy).

    I would hope Elizabeth Warren would be in that group of 10 or so.

  6. dingojack says

    Will Congress Reign In the NSA?
    No.
    [This has been 'answers to ridiculously stupid questions' #16,237,254,129. Collect them all].
    Dingo

  7. slc1 says

    Re Michael Heath @ #9

    Apparently Al Franken will probably not be in the group of 10 as he has defended the administration’s policy.

  8. eric says

    Methinks there will be an increasing market for encryption apps. Render your message unreadable before it ever gets to a cell tower.

    Of course, I’m sure that any encrypted message will get flagged as potentially terroristic. Because no honest american could object to the goverenment reading their texts and electronic communications.

  9. parasiteboy says

    As this story was coming out I just happened to be watching an old episode of NCIS (2009 season 7 episode 12 (#150 overall)) and they were briefed by the NSA about “chatter” that they picked up in an email. The email was sent by DiNozzo’s father and was picked up because of key words.

    If fiction is reality, maybe I’ll get to see Disc World after all!!!

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a very far right congressman who wrote the Patriot Act…

    Sensenbrenner may have put his name on it, but all credible reports at the time indicated that the legislation itself was pasted together – mostly in John Ashcroft’s “Justice” Department – from a collection of authoritarian bad ideas previously rejected by a previously more sensible Congress.

    PZ Myers @ # 1 – The sad thing is, Ed B knew the proper spelling just last month!

  11. barbarienne says

    But the problem isn’t necessarily that they’re reading messages (which, presumably, they aren’t doing in general. If for no other reason than the sheer noise:signal ratio). The question is using metadata to analyze patterns of interaction, and going from there.

    Entertaining application of this concept to Paul Revere:
    http://kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2013/06/09/using-metadata-to-find-paul-revere/

    Now imagine a perfectly legal organization of people working together to support a particular political candidate. Imagine their organization can be determined from analyzing the metadata. And imagine they aren’t supporting the current folks in power. What would the Republican party have done in 2008 or 2012 if they’d been able to see how Obama’s campaign was organizing?

  12. D. C. Sessions says

    Of course, I’m sure that any encrypted message will get flagged as potentially terroristic. Because no honest american could object to the goverenment reading their texts and electronic communications.

    I would hope so. Because that way when we all start routinely encrypting communications their filters are going to go to Hell.

  13. says

    slc1 “Apparently Al Franken will probably not be in the group of 10 as he has defended the administration’s policy.”
    Really? Franken voted against things like Patriot sunset extension.
     
    D. C. Sessions “I would hope so. Because that way when we all start routinely encrypting communications their filters are going to go to Hell.”
    It’s no fun messing with computers. I prefer messing with people. Generally, by adding words that could mean something at the end of sentences umbrella unit move move move.

  14. Robert B. says

    @3: That would be odd, because here they reign with ineffectual political posturing and pandering to reality-averse constituencies. More of a “gelatin microphone” than an “iron fist.”

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