House Guts NSA Surveillance Reforms Before Passing Bill

The House today passed the USA Freedom Act -- after stripping it of several critical reform provisions.

The bill was intended to end the NSA's bulk collection of our phone records. Instead, the bill is ambiguous at best, and at worst, can be viewed as codifying the NSA's authority for bulk record collection. A coalition of tech companies, including FB, Google and Yahoo, warn "the revised version creates an "unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of internet users' data."

The version that passed the House contains changed definitions, weakens the reforms to Section 702 of FISA, and has no provision for introducing a special advocate in the FISA Court.

The phrase "special selection term", used to described the scope of NSA's authority to conduct electronic surveillance, had been defined as relating to "a person, entity, or account.” The version of the bill passed by the House broadens the definition of "special selection term" to include addresses and devices and potentially more:

the term ‘specific selection term’ means a discrete term, such as a term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device, used by the Government to limit the scope of the information or tangible things sought pursuant to the statute authorizing the provision of such information or tangible things to the Government.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says:

The new version not only adds the undefined words "address" and "device," but makes the list of potential selection terms open-ended by using the term "such as." Congress has been clear that it wishes to end bulk collection, but given the government's history of twisted legal interpretations, this language can't be relied on to protect our freedoms.

The revisions to Section 702 of FISA no longer encompass "about searches", under which the NSA collects and reviews messages of phone users who do not even communicate with surveillance targets.

Many of the bills original backers withdrew their support when the latest version was introduced the other day. Other groups say it's not good, but it's better than nothing and they hope the Senate will add more protections when it considers the bill. That rarely happens, in my view. Either get it right the first time, or table it until you can.

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    Where (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by lentinel on Fri May 23, 2014 at 05:02:32 AM EST
    do they get these names - like the "USA Freedom Act" - for something that takes away our freedoms.

    Like the "Patriot Act", which the founders of our beloved republic would have found incredibly offensive. An unpatriotic act if ever there were.

    But also we have names for wars - Iraqi Freedom - Desert Shield, and the sequel Desert Storm - etc. And then there are descriptions like "collateral damage" (to the everlasting discredit of the Clinton administration), and Orwellian euphemisms like "high value targets", "enhanced interrogation", "termination with prejudice".

    All these things are meant to keep us from feeling anything while we do things to others or to ourselves.

    Bottom line: the losses of Freedom we have experienced beginning in the Bush era are with us forever - or until people with some courage and integrity are elected to office. I'm guessing "forever" is the most likely outcome.

    The one thing that at once puzzles me and gives me some hope is the "Freedom of Information Act". How it ever happened is a miracle in itself - and that it still is in force is another miracle.
    And - yet another miracle - it's name is an accurate description of its contents.

    The other side of the coin is that, even armed with information about what our government is doing to us, the American people are either powerless, too frightened or too lethargic to demand reform.

    So the NSA will continue to "hop" and do two or three hops and the congress and executive branch will continue to shield them

    I think the name Marcy Wheeler has (5.00 / 4) (#2)
    by Anne on Fri May 23, 2014 at 07:49:21 AM EST
    given it is much more accurate:

    USA Freedumber Act

    Marcy's been all over this.

    As near as I can tell, it joins such deceptively-names pieced of legislation as "Healthy Skies Initiative" and the "Clean Air Act."

    I'm pretty tired of the practice of legislation carrying words like "Freedom" and "Patriot" so as to delude the public into thinking the substance of the law is consistent with its name, when in fact, it's about anything but.

    What most people don't realize is that, in true Mad Hatter fashion, words mean what - in this case - the intelligence community, working with a president who believes in what they're doing and doesn't seem to want to really rein them in, wants them to mean.  The beauty part for them is that they get to dupe the public into thinking they're doing one thing, while ensuring they pretty much get to keep doing whatever they want.


    Your (none / 0) (#3)
    by lentinel on Fri May 23, 2014 at 09:41:11 AM EST
    citation of the "clean air act" reminded me of one of my other  personal favs: "clean coal".

    "....beginning in the Bush era." (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by NYShooter on Fri May 23, 2014 at 01:54:38 PM EST
    I would suggest it really began in the Reagan era.
    When he managed to hoodwink a nation into believing, "Government IS the Problem," we stood by and watched as everything good that was introduced from Roosevelt on thru Carter began being dismantled.

    Starting with tax cuts, which catapulted simple, scum bag millionaires into Plutocratic Billionaires. Then, he went on to, "Simplifying Government," and, "Getting rid of Loopholes." Of course, those "loopholes were things like interest rate deductions on car loans, credit cards, etc. You know, debts that middle class Americans incurred, but, not Billionaires who paid cash.  

    I was always amazed how simple, average folks could allow themselves to be suckered into committing financial suicide by a Political Huckster just because, "He says what he means, and, he means what he says," as if "What he means, and says," doesn't have consequences.


    I have (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by lentinel on Fri May 23, 2014 at 04:51:35 PM EST
    no brief to present for Reagan.

    He began the destruction of the Union movement.

    He began the total elimination of the middle class and the total accumulation of wealth by the 1% - or less.

    But - as I have expressed before - I can't blame "the simple, average folks".

    Carter was a dismal president. I know he had brains, and a modicum of integrity - but he was absolutely dismal. Hence a Reagan - a laughable entity - a corporate salesman - becomes president.

    What choice do the "masses" have these days?
    A sellout Humphrey or a sinister Nixon?
    A piece of nothing Carter or a Reagan with "charisma"?
    A piece of faded lace like Kerry or a Hitlerian Bush?

    Our system - based on monied interests - have completely distorted the democratic process. We have no choices.

    But - to return to the subject at hand - I think the use of slogans and euphemisms for war and torture reached a new plateau during the Bush years - beginning in my awareness during the Clinton administration - and now continuing with refinements in the current Obama administration.

    "Government is the problem" doesn't nearly reach the heights of "enhanced interrogation" or "collateral damage" when it comes to concealing horror.

    And - in my opinion - at this time - our government - not government in general - but government as it has been acting for lo these last decades - is a definite problem.

    Throw the bums out.


    I know when I'm beaten... (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by NYShooter on Fri May 23, 2014 at 05:52:25 PM EST
    Please accept my capitulation.



    newspeak... doublethink... (none / 0) (#13)
    by Mr Natural on Fri May 23, 2014 at 06:00:16 PM EST
    A Taxonomy of Lies.

    Patriot Act (none / 0) (#4)
    by jbindc on Fri May 23, 2014 at 12:43:01 PM EST
    The USA PATRIOT Act is an Act of Congress that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. The title of the act is a ten-letter backronym (USA PATRIOT) that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.[1]



    You Might Like (none / 0) (#6)
    by squeaky on Fri May 23, 2014 at 01:16:40 PM EST
    Trevor Paglin's work.. he focuses on the surveillance state, and government secrecy..

    As it is nearly impossible to obtain information regarding these highly classified endeavours, mission patches offer a rare glimpse into the world of PSYOPS. Even if one is not well-versed in symbolism, it is easy to perceive a sinister "vibe" emanating from the patch designs. Laced with strange symbols, ominous creatures, obscure Latin phrases and even dark humor, these patches reflect the mindstate of those wearing the patches.

    The trailblazer in this area of research is Trevor Paglen, who, in 2008, published the book "I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World". By the means of hundreds of Freedom of Information requests, he obtained and analyzed forty mission patches. From the book reviews:

    patches and their acronyms here


    He's pretty damned smart (none / 0) (#8)
    by Militarytracy on Fri May 23, 2014 at 03:13:57 PM EST
    A soldier who has seen combat is allowed to wear their current patch on one shoulder that designates where they currently serve now, and their combat patch from where they served on the other sleeve.  If they have seen combat several times they are allowed to choose which patch they prefer.

    I don't think he really chose the most sinister patches though, he chose the ones that appear the most sinister.  Units vote on patch replacement designs and mottos, the soldiers have designing contests and often the most sinister wins....like you are the deadliest truck drivers or something....usually something in Latin because they all know Latin :).

    The patches representing the most secretive sinister areas though don't change, nobody is allowed to have fun with this patch, and they look very mundane and professional.


    Check out his Book (none / 0) (#9)
    by squeaky on Fri May 23, 2014 at 03:31:59 PM EST
    They did change some patches because they were top secret but spelled out the secret on the patch..  and Paglin decoded it..

    lecture.. (patches start 11:51)

    wired show a bunch


    Some of the patches wired has (none / 0) (#14)
    by Militarytracy on Fri May 23, 2014 at 08:59:29 PM EST
    Are joke patches though.  There are more than a few mil wives who have embroidery machines, some of the off post tailoring shops that cater to military too have them.  For a price they will make you anything.

    The second patch he showed in the talk looks like a joke patch.  That is not part of anyone's uniform.  And I'm not making this up, when my husband was young and stupid he had joke name patches made because you have your name patch made too.  One patch read Richard Cranium, and he was wearing it once when a new commander showed up unexpectedly and was still learning people's names.  The rest of that story, not very pleasant.

    Also, one unit that my husband belonged to decided it was new patch time, they did their contest.  They came up with a naked woman using a hellfire missile as a "pole".  Some dumb slogan in Latin about being dangerous in the dark or something.  It was on the cusp of the military beginning to crack down on sexism, about a year before 9/11.  And the soldiers paid for the patch out of their own pocket, it isn't something the military paid for.  And at that time none of them had ever even fired a real hellfire missile.

    I couldn't believe this patch, told them all it was offensive but fat heads and all.  I was pi$$ed at my husband, but his wasn't the vote that got them to that patch.  He used to take it off and leave it in the car when he got home because to just look at it ticked me off, and I wasn't the only female person pi$$ed about it either.  That patch lasted not very long, all it took was one commander noticing it and wondering what they were all smoking, and get rid of the patch before heads roll.  So not every patch created was worn by anyone or even something that was allowed on a uniform, and people have patch collections full of fake patches.  

    They have coin collections too, different commanders will have a coin made, different missions someone might have a coin made, different squadrons or battalions sometimes have coins made, and they give them to people for joint participation or to show respect or gratitude.  If you care about these chunks of metal you end up with a collection.


    Will these coins somehow end up (none / 0) (#15)
    by oculus on Fri May 23, 2014 at 09:23:15 PM EST
    buried in the ruins of something and end up in a museum where 5th graders go on field trips?

    There are a lot of (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Militarytracy on Fri May 23, 2014 at 09:44:58 PM EST
    Bloviating chachkies to military life.   Poor kids.  Nobody will know precisely what most of them mean, half of the time the only people who really understand the meaning are their creators.  Some of these coins are freegin impressive too.  Some fathead commanders have spent a fortune manufacturing their coin.

    My husband has a bowl of them on his desk.  Only one means anything to him really though that I know of.  When he was a WOJ he got lucky in between dusting everyone's office and General Schwarzkopf needed a driver when he was in Korea.  My husband grew to love him, says he cared about the little people and saw service through little people eyes.  He gave my husband his coin when he left.

    If were a good Army wife I would have saved a pin from every unit he was ever in and I would have them all pinned to a scarf that I would wear to "functions".  I am not that good wife.  But I had this apache pin and when he crashed in Iraq and he got home I bent the rotor blades all up on it and gave it to him and he has it on his Stetson.  


    You could write THE (none / 0) (#17)
    by oculus on Sat May 24, 2014 at 12:24:26 PM EST
    book on factoids of active duty unknown to the rest of us.

    I talked to my spouse about this tonight (none / 0) (#18)
    by Militarytracy on Sat May 24, 2014 at 09:10:50 PM EST
    He said to tell squeaky that 20 years ago the whole military had an OMG patch problem.  The Army straightened this situation out first.  What some would consider sinister hides well in plain site now.  If secrecy matters he said the Air Force is still putting out command approved patches that are flagrant in many ways.  The Marines are still broken he said.  Said that when he was in Afghanistan Marines would show up wearing profane and maybe even explosive exposing jaw dropping patches.

    Do we like it better when they are stupidly profane?  Or when they hide clear eyed in plain site?  I like some stupidity when we have to try to figure out who did what stupid thing where :)


    The surveillance bill (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by KeysDan on Fri May 23, 2014 at 01:14:09 PM EST
    is a far cry from the excellent recommendations of the President's own special five-membered panel on spying reform (that included his good friends, the UN Ambassador's husband and his former colleague, the law dean at the Univ of Chicago) and is a watered-down version of earlier House committee bills.  According to the NYT editorial, the shortcomings of the House bill are a result of the pressure from a "recalcitrant" Obama Administration, which is surmised to mean, from the US Intelligence agencies.  The president, it seems, is the custodian for continuity in the national security state in place.

    While the intelligence community might be able to muster an argument about a bill impeding intelligence gathering or revealing sources or methods, the opposition to an advocate for civil liberties being able to argue in the surveillance "court" (as contrasted with only being able to file briefs as the bill allows), is puzzling, at best, and revelatory, at worst.

    And, a so-called reform that requires that opinions or orders from FISC be made public unless they would expose sources or "harm national security" is loop-hole bigger than Clapper's lies.   Should there be any doubt,  it may be erased by the change in role of declassifying "court" decisions from the attorney general (at present) to the director of national intelligence.  Of course, this is the best choice for keeping citizens in the dark if that is the objective.  

    If all of this is not enough, the new arrangement (according to AP) will give NSA access to mobile calling records they did not have under the old program.  It's called reform.

    Even the recommendations... (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by sj on Fri May 23, 2014 at 03:41:47 PM EST
    ... of the panel had issues. This in particular bothered me:
    It urged that phone companies or a private third party maintain the data instead, with access granted only by a court order.
    because if this was implemented I believe that it would have been contracted out to that "third party". And despite this handwringing:
    "If adopted in bulk, the panel's recommendations would put us back before 9/11 again," said Joel F. Brenner, a former NSA inspector general.
    the "intelligence" community would still be overreaching, to my civil liberties oriented mind.