The Watered-Down Overhauling of the NSA

A bill that is supposed to reign in the NSA bulk collection of data, passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The “USA Freedom Act”, written by Republican James Sensenbrenner, was “recast” as early as Monday of this week.

The recasting included “softening its prohibitions” on bulk collection and transparency. I can already bet the teeth will be pulled out of this bill by the time it is signed. Hopefully it dies in the Senate.

As a reminder, James Sensenbrenner also wrote the Patriot Act. An expert on everything NSA, The Guardian breaks down what the changes to the bill will now allow the government to do in spite of the bills passage:

“While changes to the bill now permit the government to gather call records up to two degrees of separation away from a specific target – potentially millions of records – Sensenbrenner urged his colleagues “not to make the perfect the enemy of the good,” expressing confidence that the revamped USA Freedom Act was on “the fast track to passage.”

Supporters in and outside of Congress concede the latest compromises have left the USA Freedom Act less protective of civil liberties than it was when introduced in October. Its distinctions from a rival bill written by the leaders of the House intelligence committee, the NSA’s strongest Capitol Hill advocates, are somewhat blurred, prompting civil libertarians to become less enthusiastic of a measure they have championed as a fix to the broad NSA powers exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.”

Like the Patriot Act, the new bill uses legal double-speak and allows “backdoors” to keep the same type of surveillance going forward.

“Additionally, the revised USA Freedom Act permits the government to get phone data two “hops,” or degrees of separation, from the target of the order, which can mean millions of call records reaped from a single court order. The legal standard for that order, for counterterrorism purposes, will be reasonable articulable suspicion” of connection to an agent of a foreign power, the NSA’s desired framework.
Significantly, the new version of the USA Freedom Act all but stripped out a provision preventing the NSA from combing through its foreign communications dragnets for Americans’ information, something Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon dubbed the “backdoor search provision,” an absence that has deeply upset supporters. Those dragnets exist pursuant to a major 2008 piece of legislation, known as Section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act.
Congressional sources pointed to new language tightening up prohibitions on the NSA intentionally targeting Americans’ communications at the outset as a palliative. But they conceded the absence of the backdoor search ban was a major change – one they said the NSA’s advocates fought hard for, an indication of how central the NSA considers a power it has rarely forthrightly acknowledged using. They indicated that USA Freedom Act supporters lacked the votes within the committee to pass the bill that retained the backdoor search prohibition.”

The hidden police state tools inside of the Patriot Act that were set to expire soon, have gotten new life inside the newly altered bill.

“Section 215 of the Patriot Act is the provision cited by the NSA and blessed by the secret Fisa Court for bulk data collection.
Some legislators, distressed by the changes to the USA Freedom Act, are considering a different option for surveillance reform.
As amended, the USA Freedom Act would push back the expiration of Section 215 to the end of 2017, when Section 702 is set to expire. The current expiration is 1 June of next year. Some legislators are already whispering that allowing Section 215 to expire wholesale in 2015 is a preferable reform.”

This is the “overhaul” we can expect from a government always looking to keep power in their hands, and money in the hands of the interests piggybacking on that power structure.



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