NSA

Just what can the NSA do with information

Micky Aldridge (CC)

How many times have you thought about returning an email to someone, and realized that you couldn’t immediately find that person’s original message? Stands to reason that once you’re at that point, you end up dropping the cursor into the little search bar that’s sitting on the top of just about every email client and webmail page, started typing in the person’s name, to run a search. It’s something that just about everyone with an email account anywhere has done, and taken for granted. Now, imagine if you couldn’t do that - or you couldn’t search for a specific topic within your emails.

Well, that’s what the NSA would like to have people believe about their system. According to a report from Pro Publica, the agency can’t seem to fulfill Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that happen to include at least a single domain for the outside source of emails, and a specific time period to search for said emails.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

Atlas Bugged II: Is There an NSA Mass Location Tracking Program?

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Way back in 2011—when “Snowden” was just a quiescent indie band from Atlanta—I wrote two posts at the Cato Institute’s blog trying to suss out what the “secret law” of the Patriot Act that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others were raising alarms about might involve: “Atlas Bugged” and “Stalking the Secret Patriot Act.” Based on what seemed like an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence—which I won’t try to summarize here—I speculated that the government was likely engaged in some kind of large scale program of location tracking, involving the use of the Patriot Act’s Section 215 to bulk collect cell phone location records for data mining purposes.

Lawmakers Who Received Defense Industry Cash Support NSA Spying

MapLight, a Berkeley-based non-profit, was recently involved in an investigation set out to identify the factors that influenced many House Republicans, which eventually translated into a failure to vote in support of the Amash-Conyers amendment. The investigation demonstrates that defense money, not party affiliation, might have had plenty to do with how members of the House voted on the Amash amendment; more than one would like to think.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was able to cross party lines and combine an impressive number of supporters to support his amendment, which was formulated to keep the NSA from collecting data from innocent Americans. In spite of the productive campaign, Rep. Amash’s amendment failed. Once MapLight researchers took a closer look at the financing data concerning the top defense contractors in the country, they found that House members who voted to continue the controversial NSA spy programs, reportedly received $41,635 each on average from defense and intelligence firms and the $12.97 million these firms gathered within a 2-year period ending December 31, 2012.

Public debate over NSA spying has only just begun

If you thought last week’s vote on the amendment offered by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) to defund the NSA was the end of the fight to restore privacy rights, think again.

Just a couple years ago, it seemed that the PATRIOT Act and other constitutionally questionable legislation were destined to pass each time they came up for renewal. There were some minor victories along the way, but news of the NSA’s broad surveillance program, through which the agency collects third-party records (including phone records and Internet metadata), sparked a welcome backlash from Americans and many members of Congress.

The result was a strong push by civil libertarians from both parties to preserve the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the right to privacy, but not hamper the intelligence community from doing their jobs. Instead of blanket surveillance, however, Amash’s amendment would have simply required that data collection “pertain to a person who is the subject of an investigation.”

The vote on the Amash amendment was much closer that many civil libertarians thought it would be. Just two years ago, the PATRIOT Act, through which the NSA has claimed the power to broadly surveil Americans, was renewed by a 275-144 vote.

Amash amendment to defund NSA snooping defeated

The House voted against the Fourth Amendment last night after a heated debate about the amendment that Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) introduced which would defund the NSA’s unconstitutional spying programs.

The vote was remarkably close, with 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting for the Amash amendment. More remarkable still was the unanimous opposition to the Amendment by both Republican and Democratic Leadership. As Roll Call reported:

The vote made for strange bedfellows. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., all voted against the amendment. Pelosi spoke against the Amash’s amendment at a behind-closed-doors Caucus meeting Wednesday, according to a source in the room.

This debate really gets at the heart of the problem with the NSA spying programs. Those that spoke out against the bill said that it would cripple our national security. Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) said that it would set us back to where we were on “September 10.”

While of course national security is important, there is no reason for the NSA to collect millions of phone records and emails without a cause – and without a warrant. This is the exactly situation that the Fourth Amendment was written for, and it looks like a majority of our elected officials in the House are willing to destroy it.

White House, Intelligence Committee Oppose Amash’s Amendment

In a very unsurprising turn of events, the White House press secretary Jay Carney announced that the White House is urging Congress to reject the amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) that would keep the National Security Agency from collecting data on anybody who is not a suspect or under investigation.

According to the WH press secretary, the amendment to HR 2397 is an attempt by Amash to “hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools.” He asked Congress to reject the measure and “move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.”

While Amash’s amendment is meant to only defund programs asking FISA court orders related to persons who are not under investigation, the White House seems to be using all tools available to discourage congressmen to break up the bipartisan support Rep. Amash has received.

Liberty-minded Republicans and liberal Democrats have expressed their intent to support the amendment that has been co-sponsored by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), John Conyers (D-MI), and Jared Polis (D-CO). According to Justin Amash’s spokesperson Will Adams the team believes it has all the votes necessary. “We’re very optimistic that we have the votes to get it across the finish line.” He continues “support began with the American people and has filtered through to members of Congress.”

House to vote on amendment to limit NSA funding

After some wrangling with Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Justin Amash’s amendment to the FY 2014 defense spending bill that would reinforce already existing limitations on the National Security Agency (NSA) will come to the floor for a vote as early as tomorrow.

This controversial part of the 2001 anti-terrorism law allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access third-party records pertaining to an investigation into criminal activity. News broke early last month that the NSA has used this authority under the PATRIOT Act to gain access to virtually every Americans’ phone records, even if they aren’t suspected of wrongdoing.

Just last week, it looked as though Amash’s amendment wouldn’t be approved for debate by the House Rules Committee. If House leaders kept the amendment off the floor, it’s possible that the entire defense spending measure would have been held up. This led to Amash and Boehner — the two have some rocky history — working together to forge a workable amendment that could be brought to the House floor for a vote.

Amash tweeted out his gratitude to Boehner for bringing the amendment out of committee and to the the floor for an up or down vote:

Concerned With the NSA Snooping? The Market Has Your Back

The truth is simple: if you have a problem, the market will always have a handy and awfully competent solution ready at your disposal at a much faster rate than any elected official can utter the word “bill.”

Forbes has reported that once NSA was a household acronym for folks across America, companies like the Maryland-based firm known as Silent Circle, became much better known for their newly developed and commercialized systems, which were designed to address mobile security concerns and offer solutions to those who are worried about having their privacy violated by the government.

While the technologies are also available at a consumer level, Silent Circle’s CEO is surprised to see a major increase in the interest from major businesses.

The sales of Silent Circle’s mobile security services have now increased dramatically. According to Forbes, the company’s monthly revenue increased about 400% as soon as reports concerning the documents leaked by Edward Snowden hit the news.

Koolspan is another company that is also reaping the benefits of the NSA scandal. Silent Circle’s products offer a solution to mobile privacy concerns with software-based technology, while Koolspan offers a hardware-based chip system to provide smartphones with the type of protection most clients feel they deserve.

America, Land of the Free (but get permission first)

“It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be tomorrow.” — James Madison, Federalist No. 62 (1788)

Having celebrated the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence this past Thursday, I was once again reminded of what a great country we live in; the “Land of the Free” where man is free to pursue happiness as he determines that to be, where you be anything you want to be and do what you want to do…anything at all!

Unless…

You want to choose your own health care plan, one that meets your needs and doesn’t force you to pay for coverage that you don’t need, that doesn’t make you pay for alcoholism coverage even if you don’t drink, coverage for smoking-related illnesses even if you’ve never smoked, pre-natal and maternity coverage even if you are a single man or a great-grandmother whose child-bearing years ended sometime around the Carter administration (sorry, you can’t do that).

Obama Upset that Americans Distrust Government

“[I]f people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and Rule of Law, then we’re going to have some problems here.” — Barack Obama

Those words were uttered by Obama recently in response to the unfolding scandal surrounding the revelation that the NSA is collecting data on every American, and I have to agree with him. If we can’t trust our very own government, made up of elected officials who have taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic; and if we can’t trust the army of bureaucrats employed by government to execute these laws and policies, then we do indeed have a problem.

And for all of those Americans currently engaged in weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, who are acting as if this monitoring of the private thoughts of every American is somehow sinister and unconstitutional, who “…warn that tyranny [is] always lurking just around the corner”, as Obama said to the students at Ohio State University; well, as Obama also said “You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”

And why shouldn’t we trust our government? It’s not like the NSA (National Security Agency) has been collecting data on virtually every phone call, text message, email, internet search, Facebook post, and pretty much all other forms of digital communication used by more than 300 million Americans.


The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.