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Paul Merrell

Tech firms and privacy groups press for curbs on NSA surveillance powers - The Washingt... - 0 views

  • The nation’s top technology firms and a coalition of privacy groups are urging Congress to place curbs on government surveillance in the face of a fast-approaching deadline for legislative action. A set of key Patriot Act surveillance authorities expire June 1, but the effective date is May 21 — the last day before Congress breaks for a Memorial Day recess. In a letter to be sent Wednesday to the Obama administration and senior lawmakers, the coalition vowed to oppose any legislation that, among other things, does not ban the “bulk collection” of Americans’ phone records and other data.
  • We know that there are some in Congress who think that they can get away with reauthorizing the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act without any reforms at all,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, a privacy group that organized the effort. “This letter draws a line in the sand that makes clear that the privacy community and the Internet industry do not intend to let that happen without a fight.” At issue is the bulk collection of Americans’ data by intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency. The NSA’s daily gathering of millions of records logging phone call times, lengths and other “metadata” stirred controversy when it was revealed in June 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The records are placed in a database that can, with a judge’s permission, be searched for links to foreign terrorists.They do not include the content of conversations.
  • That program, placed under federal surveillance court oversight in 2006, was authorized by the court in secret under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — one of the expiring provisions. The public outcry that ensued after the program was disclosed forced President Obama in January 2014 to call for an end to the NSA’s storage of the data. He also appealed to Congress to find a way to preserve the agency’s access to the data for counterterrorism information.
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  • Despite growing opposition in some quarters to ending the NSA’s program, a “clean” authorization — one that would enable its continuation without any changes — is unlikely, lawmakers from both parties say. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a leading opponent of the NSA’s program in its current format, said he would be “surprised if there are 60 votes” in the Senate for that. In the House, where there is bipartisan support for reining in surveillance, it’s a longer shot still. “It’s a toxic vote back in your district to reauthorize the Patriot Act, if you don’t get some reforms” with it, said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). The House last fall passed the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the NSA program, but the Senate failed to advance its own version.The House and Senate judiciary committees are working to come up with new bipartisan legislation to be introduced soon.
  • The tech firms and privacy groups’ demands are a baseline, they say. Besides ending bulk collection, they want companies to have the right to be more transparent in reporting on national security requests and greater declassification of opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
  • Some legal experts have pointed to a little-noticed clause in the Patriot Act that would appear to allow bulk collection to continue even if the authority is not renewed. Administration officials have conceded privately that a legal case probably could be made for that, but politically it would be a tough sell. On Tuesday, a White House spokesman indicated the administration would not seek to exploit that clause. “If Section 215 sunsets, we will not continue the bulk telephony metadata program,” National Security Council spokesman Edward Price said in a statement first reported by Reuters. Price added that allowing Section 215 to expire would result in the loss of a “critical national security tool” used in investigations that do not involve the bulk collection of data. “That is why we have underscored the imperative of Congressional action in the coming weeks, and we welcome the opportunity to work with lawmakers on such legislation,” he said.
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    I omitted some stuff about opposition to sunsetting the provisions. They  seem to forget, as does Obama, that the proponents of the FISA Court's expansive reading of section 215 have not yet come up with a single instance where 215-derived data caught a single terrorist or prevented a single act of terrorism. Which means that if that data is of some use, it ain't in fighting terrorism, the purpose of the section.  Patriot Act § 215 is codified as 50 USCS § 1861, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/1861 That section authorizes the FBI to obtain an iorder from the FISA Court "requiring the production of *any tangible things* (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)."  Specific examples (a non-exclusive list) include: the production of library circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records, book customer lists, firearms sales records, tax return records, educational records, or medical records containing information that would identify a person." The Court can order that the recipient of the order tell no one of its receipt of the order or its response to it.   In other words, this is about way more than your telephone metadata. Do you trust the NSA with your medical records? 
Paul Merrell

Tell Congress: My Phone Calls are My Business. Reform the NSA. | EFF Action Center - 3 views

  • The USA PATRIOT Act granted the government powerful new spying capabilities that have grown out of control—but the provision that the FBI and NSA have been using to collect the phone records of millions of innocent people expires on June 1. Tell Congress: it’s time to rethink out-of-control spying. A vote to reauthorize Section 215 is a vote against the Constitution.
  • On June 5, 2013, the Guardian published a secret court order showing that the NSA has interpreted Section 215 to mean that, with the help of the FBI, it can collect the private calling records of millions of innocent people. The government could even try to use Section 215 for bulk collection of financial records. The NSA’s defenders argue that invading our privacy is the only way to keep us safe. But the White House itself, along with the President’s Review Board has said that the government can accomplish its goals without bulk telephone records collection. And the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said, “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which [bulk collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act] made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.” Since June of 2013, we’ve continued to learn more about how out of control the NSA is. But what has not happened since June is legislative reform of the NSA. There have been myriad bipartisan proposals in Congress—some authentic and some not—but lawmakers didn’t pass anything. We need comprehensive reform that addresses all the ways the NSA has overstepped its authority and provides the NSA with appropriate and constitutional tools to keep America safe. In the meantime, tell Congress to take a stand. A vote against reauthorization of Section 215 is a vote for the Constitution.
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    EFF has launched an email campagin to press members of Congress not to renew sectiion 215 of the Patriot Act when it expires on June 1, 2015.   Sectjon 215 authorizes FBI officials to "make an application for an order requiring the production of *any tangible things* (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution." http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/1861 The section has been abused to obtain bulk collecdtion of all telephone records for the NSA's storage and processing.But the section goes farther and lists as specific examples of records that can be obtained under section 215's authority, "library circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records, book customer lists, firearms sales records, tax return records, educational records, or medical records."  Think of the NSA's voracious appetite for new "haystacks" it can store  and search in its gigantic new data center in Utah. Then ask yourself, "do I want the NSA to obtain all of my personal data, store it, and search it at will?" If your anser is "no," you might consider visiting this page to send your Congress critters an email urging them to vote against renewal of section 215 and to vote for other NSA reforms listed in the EFF sample email text. Please do not procrastinate. Do it now, before you forget. Every voice counts. 
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