House Passes Weak Bill to Restrain NSA


The House of Representatives passed a significantly weaker version of a bill to rein in the NSA’s blatantly unconstitutional data mining programs than was originally considered. The USA Freedom Act does contain some useful safeguards, but nothing remotely like what the 4th Amendment requires:

The bipartisan bill that passed 303-121 was altered just weeks after House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee members unanimously agreed on a stricter version that allowed for greater transparency from Internet companies such as Google and Facebook, and outlined specific criteria for data collection. But after a meeting with the White House, members in the House’s Rules Committee amended the bill so that — while it ends dragnet phone collection data — it also lets the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies collect and store large amounts of data with some loosened restrictions.

“The bill was watered down significantly,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel for the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute in Washington, D.C., told ThinkProgress. And there’s no clear definition that tells the public what information will be collected under the law, she said.

The House changed the government’s criteria for collecting information on a unique person or account to broader terms. “It’s not fair to say that this bill doesn’t do anything; it does. But the [bill] has allowed for more collection than what was imagined before [the revisions],” Ken Gude, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., told ThinkProgress. “It opened up the prospect to collect data from more than just specifically identified individuals.”

As is, the bill allows the NSA and other intel agencies to seize all emails from an email service company such as GMail, every transaction from a particular bank, all calls made in a certain area code, Greene said. Under the bill, the NSA could ask for records from an entire state. And instead of letting the government home in on communications to and from a suspect, the NSA can collect, keep and use information that’s simply about a target. That could mean a conversation mentioning the target’s name by people who aren’t suspected of criminal activity could be kept for surveillance.

“Yes, it does end the bulk collection of everyone but it does allow for the bulk collection of a subset of everyone,” Gude said. “Even if it was a large group of individuals [under surveillance], they were specific. [As the bill is written,] you can make the limiting factor so broad that you can target a large number of people.”
The House bill also weakened transparency requirements for companies under the NSA’s PRISM data-collection program implicated in the Edward Snowden leaks last year. In the original revision, companies in that program such as Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo could have released the number of surveillance requests they receive, by which agencies and the number of accounts that were affected (rounded to the nearest thousand). Now, that information breakdown is approved for all other programs except those under title 7– the PRISM program, Greene said. “That’s the program we know the least about and we need to know how the information is being used.”

I don’t know why this is so difficult. The 4th Amendment is perfectly clear: If you want to do a search and seize information pursuant to a criminal investigation, you have to show probable cause and get a warrant. It’s worked pretty well for a couple centuries.

Comments

  1. Alverant says

    Because “terrorism” (except for right wing christian terrorism) overrides the 4th Amendment.

  2. D. C. Sessions says

    The 4th Amendment is perfectly clear: If you want to do a search and seize information pursuant to a criminal investigation, you have to show probable cause and get a warrant.

    And that’s exactly what the Act sets as the standard, Ed: “we have reason to believe <attached> that someone in California is engaged in material support of terrorism by growing cannabis sativa, therefore we need a warrant (sealed, of course) to intercept all of the electronic communications within, entering, leaving, or crossing California.” Problem solved.

    Next up: Florida. After that, 48 others. It’s really a very limited program, after all: only 50 warrants.

  3. says

    It’s worked pretty well for a couple centuries.

    Yes, but now we face a new, more dangerous kind of enemy. Robots from the future, I assume. If it was morons with combustible shoes I’d be underwhelmed.

  4. says

    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.

    It’s pretty clear that the warrant has to say what is being searched for. Why is that inconvenient little bit always left out of the discussion?

  5. Ichthyic says

    If it was morons with combustible shoes I’d be underwhelmed.

    *psst*

    It was morons with combustible tennis shoes.

    HA HA.

    *runs away*

    hey, at least it wasn’t morons with combustible bags of burning dog shit? now THAT would be real terrorism!

  6. eric says

    The 4th Amendment is perfectly clear: If you want to do a search and seize information pursuant to a criminal investigation, you have to show probable cause and get a warrant.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the NSA should be governed by tighter restrictions, but this is (IMO) at best an incomplete argument for that. We have carved out numerous exceptions to the first and second amendments, someone supportive of NSA datamining could easily dismiss your argument by pointing out that carving out an exception to the fouth is historically and judicially a perfectly legitimate act.

    IMO the real argument that needs to be made here is that the government has failed to give a sufficiently good reason for a fourth amendment exception. I.e., a reason that meets the criteria we normally apply when limiting speech, religion, and other basic rights, such as stuff like ‘clear and present danger,’ ‘narrow,’ ‘tailored to goal,’ ‘no other practical way to accomplish the goal,’ and so on. IOW, I think the argument you have to make here is that the NSA datamining programs are not a narrow, tailored solution to the problem of catching terrorists and there is little or no evidence that individual acts of terror pose a major or immediate danger to the state. Finally, since even datamining users are somewhat ambivalent on the value of it, and since many other countries stop terrorism doing without it, this techniques is clearly not the only practical way of catching terrorists.

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I don’t know why this is so difficult. The 4th Amendment is perfectly clear: If you want to do a search and seize information pursuant to a criminal investigation, you have to show probable cause and get a warrant. It’s worked pretty well for a couple centuries.

    The court jettisoned the fourth amendment long ago. Maybe it was when they allowed suspicion-less border crossing bullshits.
    Maybe it was when they allowed suspicion-less roadside sobriety checkpoints.
    Maybe it was long ago when the courts missed the memo on the fourth amendment entirely. It is a balancing act of limiting government power to prevent tyranny and a police state vs legitimate government interests – not personal inconvenience and privacy vs legitimate government interests.

Leave a Reply