NSA

PATRIOT Act author introduces measure to end NSA bulk data collection

James Sensenbrenner

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author and primary sponsor of the USA PATRIOT Act, announced on Wednesday that he would introduce legislation, the USA FREEDOM Act, to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone and Internet metadata.

“My view of the PATRIOT Act hasn’t changed,” said Sensenbrenner at a Cato Institute conference on NSA surveillance.

“What has changed is what two administrations, Bush 43 and the Obama Administration, have done after I left office as chairman of the [House] Judiciary Committee and did not have my tart oversight pen to send oversight letters that usually were cosigned by Congressman [John] Conyers, then-the ranking member, to the Justice Department, and specifically acting like a crabby, old professors when they were non-responsive in their answers,” he explained.

Sensenbrenner has become a fierce critic of the NSA’s surveillance techniques, referring to them as “excessive and un-American” in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The NSA has justified the bulk data collection through a controversial provision of the PATRIOT Act. He contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision, Section 215, allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.

Republican challenges Amash, criticizes his voting record

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was the target of much praise and criticism when his amendment to strip funding for the NSA program responsible for the collection of phone records of Americans was narrowly defeated in the House.

While some big government conservatives did not find Amash’s leadership and dedication to disassemble the surveillance programs anything close to productive, Americans of all walks of life cheered his outspoken attitude and his battle to restore 4th amendment rights. Now, a Republican businessman named Brian Ellis has decided to challenge Amash’s Michigan House seat.

According to Politico, Ellis says he will “advance conservative solutions by voting to balance the budget, reduce the tax burden, expand American energy sources, and defend the right to life and our Constitution.” During his announcement, Ellis criticized Amash for voting “present” instead of voting in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, probably unaware of the reasons why Amash chose to do so. According to news sources covering the story at the time, Rep. Amash voted “present” on the Keystone XL pipeline because he did not believe that a bill should single out just one company or one individual. While Amash was in favor of having the pipeline built, he believed singling out a company was simply unconstitutional.

Justin Amash details how the Intelligence Committee kept important documents from House members

Justin Amash speaks at LPAC

While some continue to defend that House members had access to important classified NSA surveillance documents before having to vote on it, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) reported that he and his colleagues were only contacted to learn they would have the opportunity to review the classified document through an internal communications system for Congress that is used by members when they need to send each other interoffice mail. Because of the great volume of messages, few House members or staffers check the messages posted through the “e-Dear Colleague” system.

According to Amash, the House Intelligence Committee made the document available for review shortly before Congress’ summer recess and without notifying staffers directly, which is the procedure when members must be made aware of important intelligence briefings.

After the Intelligence Committee notified members through the “e-Dear Colleague” system, Rep. Amash informed some of his colleagues of the briefing on his own. According to Amash, the only representatives who actually showed up at the briefing were the ones that had been contacted by Amash or his office after the message was sent to members via the internal messaging tool.

There is reason to feel optimistic on this Constitution Day

Back in 2004, Congress passed an amendment offered by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to an omnibus spending bill to commemorate the signing of the Constitution and declare September 17, the day on which the document was signed by its framers, to be “Constitution Day.”

It’s ironic that a legislative body that frequently steps outside it’s limitations would pass a measure recognizing a document for which they have little regard. In the years preceding the creation of Constitution Day, Congress passed a number of measures that fly in the face of the intent and spirit of the Constitution and the rights protected therein.

But Constitution Day means a little more this year than in the past, given the renaissance the document has seen, particularly in just the past few months.

There are several examples from which we could choose to highlight the rebirth of the Constitution, such as Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster back in March or the defeat of onerous gun control measures, including expanded background checks and a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” that would have further infringed upon Second Amendment rights. But recent developments concerning the NSA and Syria are, arguably, in the back of most Americans’ minds.

Better encryption for online services could throw a wrench in NSA mass surveillance efforts

Craig Timberg at the Washington Post has an important story on efforts to keep online communications and user data safe from the prying eyes of Uncle Sam.

Timberg explains that in the arms race between government agencies like the NSA and big tech companies, giants such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others, have begun to implement more and better encryption practices for online services. And even though encryption isn’t an absolute defense, it makes it much more difficult for the government to run large-scale surveillance programs:

[E]ncryption — essentially converting data into what appears to be gibberish when intercepted by outsiders — complicates government surveillance efforts, requiring that resources be devoted to decoding or otherwise defeating the systems…security experts say the time and energy required to defeat encryption forces surveillance efforts to be targeted more narrowly on the highest-priority targets — such as terrorism suspects — and limits the ability of governments to simply cast a net into the huge rivers of data flowing across the Internet.

Read the full article here.

A version of this article was originally published on rstreet.org.

What Syria Can Teach About Net Neutrality

Internet killswitch

There is a focus, and rightly so, on what the U.S. reaction to the crises in Syria will be — if anything — from the perspective of how strong the United States looks on the world stage, and what that means as regards our relationships with long-standing allies. These are important considerations.

But Syria may have something else to teach us that is just as timely and relevant as the ubiquitous relevance of international relationships and war games. The country, along with the other hotbed of unrest Egypt, is the Petri dish of the Internet “killswitch.” (Read: what happens when the government controls access to the Internet and decides a population has had enough of communication and information gathering. Yeah. Scary.)

Mashable reports:

The Internet is a decentralized global network, designed to be resilient and hard to take down. But it’s still possible to black out a certain area, or even an entire country, disconnecting it from the rest of the world.

That’s what happened in Egypt in 2011 and three times in Syria in just the last year…does Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have stronghold over the country’s Internet access? Most likely yes, according to experts.

WSJ: NSA programs cover 75% of Internet traffic, keeps some e-mail content

The National Security Agency’s Internet communications surveillance is so vast that it can reach nearly 75% of all online communications, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

President Barack Obama has gone to great lengths recently to downplay the NSA’s surveillance apparatus, telling Americans that the government isn’t spying on them and publicly discussing reforms that would protect privacy. But the Wall Street Journal’s report indicates that the snooping programs do in fact retain both email and phone communications between American citizens.

“The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say,” noted the Wall Street Journal.

“The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S.,” the paper added. “But officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.”

The Tactics of the Enemy

Peggy Noonan has a great column in The Wall Street Journal about the domestic spying at the National Security Agency (NSA) that, it turns out, may have been a little broader and a little more illegal than previously suspected. The Washington Post reported yesterday that new documents and an internal audit indicate that NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008”:

The documents provided by Snowden offer only glimpses of those questions. Some reports make clear that an unauthorized search produced no records. But a single “incident” in February 2012 involved the unlawful retention of 3,032 files that the surveillance court had ordered the NSA to destroy, according to the May 2012 audit. Each file contained an undisclosed number of telephone call records.

One of the documents sheds new light on a statement by NSA Director Keith B. Alexander last year that “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens.”

Some Obama administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have defended Alexander with assertions that the agency’s internal definition of “data” does not cover “metadata” such as the trillions of American call records that the NSA is now known to have collected and stored since 2006. Those records include the telephone numbers of the parties and the times and durations of conversations, among other details, but not their content or the names of callers.

Congress denied access to classified document prior to NSA vote

In May 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) took the floor of the Senate to warn his colleagues that Americans would one day be outraged to learn that the U.S. Government was actively engaged in surveillance activities that most citizens would consider outright criminal.

With carefully measured words, to avoid being reprimanded, the Senator from Oregon took the time to bring up an even more serious problem, which also worried his colleague Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM): the Obama administration’s unwillingness to cooperate by allowing for an open debate on the specifics of the government’s classified interpretation of the Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the particular section that allegedly authorizes the NSA to collect records on nearly every single American citizen.

The Obama administration managed to avoid looking into the query and Sen. Wyden’s amendment, which would declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of Section 215, failed. Congress finally voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years despite not having access to one single classified document concerning the number of Americans affected by the surveillance activities authorized under the Patriot Act.

Fast forward to August, 2013. During a recent speech, President Obama claimed his administration had already begun the process of opening the debate on the NSA’s surveillance activities long before Mr. Edward Snowden stepped into the picture.

Chatting with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)

Thomas Massie

“[T]he House and the Senate control the purse strings. It’s the only check that we have besides some oversight on the Executive Branch. And so I’m going to be part of that group that goes into this August recess and goes back home and says, ‘I will not vote for a continuing resolution that funds ObamaCare.’” - Rep. Thomas Massie

The last couple of election cycles have led to several interesting, liberty-minded Republicans being sent to Congress. On Tuesday, United Liberty had a chance to chat with one of those Republicans, Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Kentucky’s Fourth Congressional District.

Elected last year with strong supports from grassroots groups, Massie quickly established his libertarian tendencies by taking strong stands for civil liberties and economic freedom. He’s an approachable guy and very down to Earth.

Along with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Massie fought hard to get a vote last week on an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to defund the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of American citizens.

Massie offered an inside baseball account of how a vote on the amendment, which was offered by Amash, came to pass in the face of fierce opposition from President Barack Obama, congressional leaders from both parties and the nation’s security apparatus.


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