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Anti-NSA Bill Watered Down, Now Does Very Little

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  • Center Left
    Denton, TX
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    The House just passed the USA FREEDOM Act. I capitalized all the letters for a reason. Get this, it's an acronym that stands for: Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act. Someone (or a group of someones) actually sat down and came up with that. Seems like some people are trying real hard to sell the idea that this bill is going to restore the NSA back to a time pre-Patriot Act and pre-eavesdropping and non-discriminate, bulk data collecting. But my big question is, is this bill really the answer? Or even a good first answer, as it mainly just deals with phone data collection and surveillance.

    The USA Freedom Act passed by a healthy majority in the House; the vote went 303 for, 121 against. Many against the bill cited that this "compromise" was not the answer, and that it still left the language of data collecting restrictions extremely vague. The bill also renewed the Patriot Act to live long past the looming expiration date of 2017.

    Here's why myself and those opposed to the bill feel this is a less than genuine response to the NSA's massive overreach into data collecting. Here is what Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, had to say about the bill:

    "[The USA Freedom Act is] a workable compromise that protects the core function of a counter terrorism program we know has saved lives around the world." Rep. Mike Rogers chairs the House intelligence committee. He made that statement to the Associated Press.

    That seems to encapsulate a great majority of the opinion of those in favor of this bill. The sentiment: 'Well, it's not perfect. It's a compromise. But its certainly better than nothing and we should be happy that we are making strides toward increased privacy.' I'm paraphrasing of course. But no doubt that's the way most feel about the bill, at least publicly. I personally think that a certain percentage think differently. I suspect that the makers of this bill are throwing us a bone to settle us down, but the bill is really the ONLY thing they intend to do about the issue of bulk data collection. I think this is what they want, to pass this bill and be done with the conversation once and for ALL. That's why they named it with such a patriotic acronym; they are trying to pretend that this will police the NSA and other shadow government organizations, knowing full well that the language provides copious amounts of... wiggle room.

    I tend to be annoyed with conspiracy theory talk, especially when it comes to "the government is up to no good" conversations. And I apologize to those that think I am bashing any whole administration or party. I am not. Just simply stating the obvious. Edward Snowden (and others before him) gave us full reason to KNOW that the NSA has lied to us in the past. And is not above lying to us again, by using slight of hand. I believe this bill to be another slight of hand trick. Sounds like it will stop the problem. Certainly sounds patriotic. But I think that everyone in the House knows, at least on some level, that this is a baby step at best. A band-aid for savvy legislators and government officials to eventually figure out how to side-step, using 'legislative language tricks'.

    Am I off base here? I certainly hope this reigns in some of the NSA's ability. For I know that some monitoring is necessary. But obvious blanket and non-discriminate bulk collecting of data is unlawful. Even the name of this bill freely admits that there is a serious problem here to address. The USA Freedom Act is really only aimed at curbing the mass data collecting of our phone records. In truth, they are just passing on that responsibility to the phone companies. My main concern is with the title of this bill; if this bill is basically only intended to fix one problem, why title it in such a way that makes it sound like this proposed law will be THE answer to the NSA's collective overreach?

    Here is the full bill:
  • Liberal Democrat
    Colorado Springs, CO
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    Yes, this is a topic in which we probably don't know all the facts, plus there may be some misinformation being spread by the conspiracy theorists. Nevertheless, people seem to have strong opinions, but perhaps less understanding. I admit to being unsure about the data being gathered, and therefore I have mixed opinions.

    First, what is meant by the term "metadata" and what actually is collected? Metadata is supposedly "data about data" or just the identifying data but not the data itself. As I understand it, for phone calls metadata is who you called, who called you, when you called and how long you talked or if the call was connected or went to a voice recorder. No conversations recorded. For e-mails it is the 'to', 'from', 'cc', 'bcc', and IP addresses but no text. The actual surveillance terms used are pen registers and/or trap & trace devices ("pen/trap taps"). Pen registers record the phone numbers that you call, while trap and trace devices record the numbers that call you.

    Surveillance Self Defense: "Pen Registers" and "Trap and Trace Devices"

    The metadata could apparently also include what websites you browsed and maybe more. According to the above website there are "some reports of the government using pen/trap taps to intercept content that should require a wiretap order: specifically, the content of SMS text messages, as well as "post-cut-through dialed digits" (digits you dial after your call is connected, like your banking PIN number, your prescription refill numbers, or your vote for American Idol)."

    So if the NSA is following the law, it identifies a "target" then, with the FISA Court's approval, the NSA can listen in and record conversations in real time...or read e-mails. What is less clear is who is swept up in the phone and e-mail contacts that the "target" corresponded with. That can be a pretty long list of so called "bulk data".

    With respect to the proposed FREEDOM Act, Ken Gude, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C in talking with ThinkProgress states that the "House changed the government’s criteria for collecting information on a unique person or account to broader terms. 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...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.”

    This seems to be somewhat consistent with what Glenn Greenwald alludes to as existing practices:

    National Review Online, July 28, 2013: Greenwald: The NSA Has Trillions of E-mails and Phone Calls

    “The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years,” he told host George Stephanopoulos. “And what these programs are are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use. All an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things, it searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered.

    That's a major assertion that Greenwald makes via his Edward Snowden connection. But is it true that the actual conversations for every phone call for every American has been recorded for posterity? Or just the "terror suspects" and every contact they made ...and of course with a FISA court order? Or just terror suspects in real time? Or were they doing it and now have ceased?

    And as Greenwald asserts, can any low level analyst at the NSA like Snowdown go in and download a phone conversation from a few years back and listen to it...perhaps a neighbor...or a relative...maybe an ex-wife..or a Senator? That seems to be what Greenwald and Snowden are implying. I would certainly believe that they are doing it to selected overseas countries like Iran, but if the NSA is in fact storing every single telephone conversation (trillions of them) of every American citizen then that would appear to be illegal under existing law...or maybe not.

    That doesn't seem to be a topic of conversation within Congress or within the FREEDOM Act legislation. That act addresses limiting the "bulk collection of data". I couldn't find what is meant by "bulk collection" but it certainly seems to be much more than the collection of "metadata" for a single individual (target).

    The House version of the FREEDOM Act is 118 pages long so I haven't taken the time to read it. Expect the Senate to tighten it up. Anyway, none of the provisions will go into effect until 2015 so we can debate these for quite some time yet. I admit to not knowing or not having confidence in what is supposedly known.

    The ACLU supports it as "better than nothing" but will fight to improve it in the Senate version.

    Oh well. I guess we'll know soon enough. In the meantime, I'll continue browsing all the Facebook pages of my friends and relatives that like to share their deepest secrets with the world. Ha.
  • Democrat
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    Our "Big Brother" is alive and well for whatever media hype exposes the collection/mining of data on all of us in America and around the world. It's going to get a lot worse before people will ever be satisfied with stopping the infiltration of our lifestyles. There's just too much interested people that desire our life story, data, records and tomorrow, maybe our thoughts. Intriguing as it may seem, it's all coming and whatever law/bill is passed, it will not stop/halt the continued development of spying in our lives. Technology will continue to advance and make it easier to spy on anybody. Just this week, it was comical to watch as a reporter goes around approaching unknown common people and telling them their recent cell phone use, people they talked/text to, their names, subject of conversations and their immediate future plans. These people responded to the reporter unknowingly being filmed for the media, just like "Your on Candid Camera", surprised for how much information the reporter had on them. Get real, people, there is no such thing as "PRIVACY".

    For whatever is written in the bill as an attempt to soothe the American citizen that privacy is our countries major concern, it's a ruse and Governments around the world, including America will stop at nothing to gather whatever information they desire on anybody they desire. "NSA's collective overreach", what a hoot! The only thing that Snowden and his cronies have whistle blown on intrusive acts into our privacy is inform the media this is going on. So what! It's is not going to stop. Espionage is big business and not only for mediating the effects of terrorism. Big business wants your information to advertise selectively products you will buy. Just look what Google, Yahoo, MSN and other Internet web sources are doing. They are capturing your key strokes and web searches to sell this information to Big Business. Nothing is sacred with even authorities having the ability to look through walls and record your home activities. Remember that old porn film, "Behind the Green Door". Just laugh about it, because that's really all you can do. So what! Spy your hearts out, eat you data corn flakes because I don't care. What I do watch for and care about is acts of lifestyle attacks, which damage your good name, heritage, ability of having a good life. It's a fine line, but watch out America, there's a trillion lawyers waiting in the folds to march on your intrusive efforts damaging citizens rights. As it's so easy to collect the data, it's just as easy as phone call to contact that eager, salivating, hungry lawyer looking to spoil someone's day. Just don't worry about the NSA, worry about yourself and a possible scamming attack into your privacy. If you have something to hide, really, you must have some criminal intention, than NSA spying is a good thing. Woof, Woof! Get em big dogs!
  • Other Party
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    ..."Espionage is big business..."... Yes it is, and no one does more of it, or is better at it better than our government. OK, some may do it better, but nobody does more.

    No one really thinks that a new law or two will actually stop them do they? This administration obeys the laws it wants to and ignores the others.

    If they want to see or hear what you are doing, no law will prevent them, that's for sure.

    I'm all for them spying on those that need to be spied on. The rest of us...not so much. Doesn't matter, we are ALL fair game.