Senators Call for Halting Unconstitutional NSA Spying on Americans

NSA spyingEFFIn their cogent op-ed, "End the NSA Dragnet, Now" in the New York Times today, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Mark Udall (D-Colo), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) argue in opposition to an authoritarian bill proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would actually ratify the power of the National Security Agency to spy on Americans. To their great credit, the three senators have proposed legislation that would go a long way toward restoring American's Fourth Amendment privacy protections against NSA surveillance. From the op-ed:

THE framers of the Constitution declared that government officials had no power to seize the records of individual Americans without evidence of wrongdoing, and they embedded this principle in the Fourth Amendment. The bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records — so-called metadata — by the National Security Agency is, in our view, a clear case of a general warrant that violates the spirit of the framers’ intentions. This intrusive program was authorized under a secret legal process by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so for years American citizens did not have the knowledge needed to challenge the infringement of their privacy rights.

Our first priority is to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism. If government agencies identify a suspected terrorist, they should absolutely go to the relevant phone companies to get that person’s phone records. But this can be done without collecting the records of millions of law-abiding Americans. We recall Benjamin Franklin’s famous admonition that those who would give up essential liberty in the pursuit of temporary safety will lose both and deserve neither.

The usefulness of the bulk collection program has been greatly exaggerated. We have yet to see any proof that it provides real, unique value in protecting national security. In spite of our repeated requests, the N.S.A. has not provided evidence of any instance when the agency used this program to review phone records that could not have been obtained using a regular court order or emergency authorization.

Despite this, the surveillance reform bill recently ratified by the Senate Intelligence Committee would explicitly permit the government to engage in dragnet collection as long as there were rules about when officials could look at these phone records. It would also give intelligence agencies wide latitude to conduct warrantless searches for Americans’ phone calls and emails.

This is not the true reform that poll after poll has shown the American people want. It is preserving business as usual. When the Bill of Rights was adopted, it established that Americans’ papers and effects should be seized only when there was specific evidence of suspicious activity. It did not permit government agencies to issue general warrants as long as records seized were reviewed with the permission of senior officials.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans now know that the NSA and other federal police and spy agencies were in the process of constructing what could easily have evolved into what former NSA cryptanalyst William Binney described as a "turnkey totalitarian state."

The time to stop it is now. Readers who are so moved can make their concerns known by contacting their members of Congress and the Senate.

The whole New York Times op-ed is well worth reading.

See also reason.tv's "What We Saw at the Anti-NSA 'Stop Watching Us' Rally" in Washington, DC below:

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  • Jordan||

    Our first priority is to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism.

    No, it's not, nor should it be.

  • Ron Bailey||

    J: You are entirely correct. Our first priority is to protect our liberty.

  • Restoras||

    Indeed. The nebulous and completely unpredictable nature of 'terrorist threat' allows for a massive power grab at the expense of personal liberty, and the government is all to happy to oblige.

  • WTF||

    Holy fuck those Taboola ads are annoying.

  • Metazoan||

    THIS

  • The Late P Brooks||

    an authoritarian bill proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would actually ratify the power of the National Security Agency to spy on Americans.

    But you'll sleep better in the warm and loving embrace of the Total Security State. This will totally evict those scary monsters under your bed.

  • wareagle||

    and if you disagree with that, then the terrorists have already won.

  • John||

    Despite this, the surveillance reform bill recently ratified by the Senate Intelligence Committee would explicitly permit the government to engage in dragnet collection as long as there were rules about when officials could look at these phone records.

    Every rule will eventually be broken by someone. Even if you fire them and have all sorts of rock solid protections and layers of top men, there is always going to be someone who thinks the rules don't apply to them. The only way to prevent abuse from happening is to not collect in the first place.

    The bottom line is no one has ever made the case that this sort of collection is actually useful in stopping terrorism. They have been doing it for years and can't point to a single instance where it resulted in any terror attack being thwarted.

    And beyond that, once the government has this information how do you then not produce it to courts? It is technically Brady information in many cases. Do we throw out Brady? Do we start searching the databases every time an accused says that the information will show his innocence?

  • ||

    And beyond that, once the government has this information how do you then not produce it to courts? It is technically Brady information in many cases. Do we throw out Brady? Do we start searching the databases every time an accused says that the information will show his innocence?

    This is already an issue in at least one case, I believe. It could be a huge mess.

  • John||

    It is an issue in several cases. I was out west helping my dad move last week. I was talking to a woman sitting next to us having a drink who was a divorce attorney. She says that her CLEs are telling her that in every case to make a request to the Feds to see if they have any information relating to your client or the adverse party. They think failure to do so could be malpractice. It is a giant mess.

  • ||

    That is amazing. And it totally should be malpractice.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Obama has taken a hit on the NSA revelations. Most Republicans I talk too are against the NSA spying. So why in the world are GOP senators supporting the NSA spying?

    -The Senate Intelligence Committee split sharply on proposals to rein in National Security Agency surveillance programs last month

    One of the reforms—a three-year cap on the retention of telephone records in the main database—went down, 7-8, even though it had the support of Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) The amendment failed in a party line vote where Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, joined the GOP to kill the amendment.

    Another 7-8 casualty in the intel panel mark-up was a provision to ban the bulk collection of cell-site information that can show where a caller is physically located at the time of making or receiving a call. Most panel Democrats supported the geolocation data ban, and most Republicans opposed it

    The third proposed reform to fall 7-8 was an amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to require that any Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decision finding a violation of the Constitution be made public. Again, most Democrats supported the proposal, while most Republicans opposed it.

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/.....77654.html

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    More

    -Even the panel’s 11-4 vote on the overall reform package may be more complex than it might have initially appeared. The committee’s Oct. 31 press release didn’t disclose who voted no, but Wyden, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) quickly acknowledged they opposed the legislation as insufficient. The three have also called for an outright ban on the bulk-collection programs.

    A source told POLITICO that night that the fourth ‘no’ vote on the overall bill came from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) His opposition to the measure was somewhat surprising, since he’s made public comments defending the NSA and its surveillance work.

    Spokesmen for Coburn did not respond to phone messages and e-mails from POLITICO last month and Friday seeking an explanation of his vote, but the newly-published committee report suggests he may have opposed the bill because he believed it put too many restraints on the NSA.

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/.....77654.html

    Stupid party indeed.

  • Restoras||

    We don't call them the Stupid Party for nothing, you know.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Marco Rubio is on the committee and voted against the reforms. This man truly does not want to be President, does he?

  • John||

    It is the bipartisan fusion party. And as an added bonus, thanks to the stupid party voting for this, various Democrats who probably could have been cajoled by the White House into voting for this shit were it necessary were free to cast a meaningless "no" vote giving the President what he wants and being able to tell angry constituents they are on their side.

    This really is a case of the GOP being the unimaginably stupid party. Obama pissed away 40 years of work making the Democrats the party of privacy and civil liberties. But the GOP is now happily stepping in to help him out and ensure the Dems keep their brand.

    It is appalling politics and doesn't even make the country any safer.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -thanks to the stupid party voting for this, various Democrats who probably could have been cajoled by the White House into voting for this shit were it necessary were free to cast a meaningless "no" vote giving the President what he wants and being able to tell angry constituents they are on their side.

    Come now John, this evil and foolishness rests on your preferred poison. We should applaud those who voted against the NSA, not try to undermine them with sheer speculation in order to provide cover for the GOP.

  • wareagle||

    I might be more willing to applaud these Dems had they found a couple of Senate Repubs - hmmm, wonder if any come to mind - to join with them on this article, to give it some bipartisan credibility. Wyden, at least, is consistent. Not as sure about the others.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    From the article I posted it seems like these are the only three on the committee who oppose the program generally. Of course they could have tried to get someone off the committee like Rand Paul who I would think would have joined them.

  • John||

    This is how politics works. The Dem base doesn't like this any more than the GOP base. So the Dems smartly voted against it knowing their votes didn't mean anything. Had the White House needed them, most of them would have voted yes. But thanks to the GOP, they didn't have to.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    That is just sheer speculation to provide cover for the fact that your preferred party's votes killed these reforms. You need to talk to your fellow Republican voters to get your pols in line John, not guess at how Dems might vote as badly as the Republicans were the Republicans not voting so badly.

  • John||

    It is not speculation at all. Congress knew about these programs before Snowden. The Intel committee certainly did. And the Democrats did nothing to stop them when they controlled the Congress. Indeed, Obama never faced a single threat of a primary challenger or political cost over his support of them. We know what the Democrats think of these programs because we know how they acted when they were in charge. There is nothing speculative about it.

    We get it Bo, you are unable to admit any flaws in Democrats and think they are always sincere. It is your move. Well, the rest of us can see the truth.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    John, you can point over here and there as much as you like, but the fact remains that on the Committee the only ones opposing the NSA spying are Democrats. Your party is lining up to support it en masse, and what makes it particularly crazy is that they have everything to gain politically from doing otherwise. They must sincerely and intensely believe in such government intrusion!

  • prolefeed||

    We don't call them the Stupid Party for nothing, you know.

    Both major parties appear to be both stupid and evil simultaneously, so "Stupid Parties" would be a more accurate description.

  • Rasilio||

    No, while they are both stupid and evil there are decided differences between them.

    Republicans are kind of like the robbers in Home Alone, bumbling kinda bad guys who probably wouldn't be all that dangerous even if they were competent.

    Democrats are kind of like Dr Evil, really bad guys who could fuck up the world in a major way if they weren't basically incompetent.

    Basically republicans aren't utopianists and their goals are much more tolerable, let them reward their cronies in the Military Industrial complex, start the occasional brush war or two and outlaw abortion and they'll mostly leave you alone.

    Democrats are utopianists and that means there is no end to the depravity they are willing to engage in to remake the world in their perfect image

  • kevrob||

    Don't forget, the fellow in Austin Powers wasn't the first Dr Evil!

    Thinking of this, I had a brainstorm, but someone has already used the concept for something other than a libertarian hero.

    Kevin R

  • wareagle||

    the Repubs you talk to and the ones in Congress are different animals. The ones you talk to still believe in thigns like limited govt, a concept the elected class has long since forgotten.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I hear you, but there are these things called elections, and one thing I can say for Republican voters is that, unlike Democrat voters, they are increasingly willing to vote out or not support pols that do not listen to them on these kinds of matters. You would think for sheer self preservation's sake they would feign some indication of standing up for liberty in these matters. But no.

  • wareagle||

    establishment Repubs are so innoculated from reality that they see their supporters as a different type of "yellow dog Dem." The part about voters sitting out does not compute with them, and you have seen how readily they blame the libertarian candidate AND how quickly they turned on the Teas.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    To their great credit, the three senators have proposed legislation that would go a long way toward restoring American's Fourth Amendment privacy protections against NSA surveillance.

    If only there were some document that already guaranteed such liberties, this legislation might not be required.

    Perhaps the good senators could propose a law granting us freedom of speech as well?

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    They have joined a lawsuit arguing it is unconstitutional, what more do you want of them?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....story.html

  • Dave Krueger||

    Thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans now know that the NSA and other federal police and spy agencies were in the process of constructing what could easily have evolved into what former NSA cryptanalyst William Binney described as a "turnkey totalitarian state."

    This is patently ridiculous. If there is anything I have learned over many years of message board discussions, we don't need to worry about totalitarianism coming to the U.S. anytime soon simply because we don't have concentration camps. When you start seeing death camps popping up in western deserts, you can start to worry.

    Secondly, we don't have the "cult of personality" leadership that totalitarian states have. No one goes around repeatedly chanting the name Obama or Bush as if they are mindless automatons who support their guy no matter what calamity he inflicts on the country or how many warm young bodies he sends off to die in a place they couldn't find on a map just to satisfy his ego-driven urge to make a name for himself (often referred to as "legacy").

    Finally, last but not least, Americans are protected by the it-can't-happen-here gene. If you've learned anything in your twelve years of public (or private) education and daily loyalty oaths, the U.S. is immunized from tyranny by our miraculous, low-maintenance, one-of-a-kind government.

  • wareagle||

    No one goes around repeatedly chanting the name Obama...

    around here, no. But if you don't believe this cult of personality exists, then you are simply not paying attention.

    POTUS, since you are apparently AWOL, habitually and routinely ignores laws he doesn't like, does things he knows are illegal, etc etc.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Sarcasm meter inop?

  • wareagle||

    looks like. Sending out for recalibration though, usually, sarcasm comes in one or two lines.

  • Shirley Knott||

    By the time there are concentration camps, it is far far too late to start worrying.
    We've had the cult of personality thing going since Reagan, if not Kennedy.
    There are no successful inoculations against the temptations of power and empire -- as the US is showing.

  • AlexInCT||

    I know this is all snark, but I would like to point out that concentration camps are not needed when you can use Federal agencies like the IRS or DOJ to ruin your enemies. And if you do it very publicly and get away wiith it, it's a doublle whammy. Like the frogs say: "pour encourager les autres"

  • Dave Krueger||

    Is it too early for a Christmas song? How about this one?

    "The NSA Is Comin' To Town"

    You better watch out
    You better not cry
    You better not pout
    I'm telling you why
    The NSA is coming to town

    They're making a kill list,
    Checking it twice;
    Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
    The NSA is coming to town

    They see you when you're sleeping
    They know when you're awake
    They know if you've been bad or good
    So be good for goodness sake

    ...

  • LynchPin1477||

    Our first priority is to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    Fixed that for them.

  • kmc212||

    Just fire and prosecute the bastards!

  • ||

    Hmmm. It is naive to think that any of this has anything to do with stopping terrorism. That is, unless you consider terrorists the people that the political class is most afraid of...the american people.

  • Metazoan||

    Yeah, I agree with this. I am finding it hard to believe that, as stupid as the elected class is, they actually believe this is for fighting terrorism.

  • CE||

    The people the political class is most afraid of is people who don't pay their taxes.

  • CE||

    THE framers of the Constitution declared that government officials had no power to seize the records of individual Americans without evidence of wrongdoing...

    You're going to keep dredging this up? The framers lived in the 18th century, before cell phones and the Internet. What did the framers know about terrorism or government tyranny? They complained about a 2% stamp tax, and almost hanged George Washington over reasonable regulation of alcohol production!

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I love how NY Times manages to dig up a trio of Clowncrats for advocating against NSA antics - the bleeding hearts want to be Principled and Obama whores at the same time. Have cake, eat it too and all that. Sadly, only Clowncrats can pull such hypocrisy off I think.

    Rand Paul, on issues like this where his popularity has its greatest potential, will be 'removed' from mainstream media excepting fishing attempts akin to a couple weeks back with the plagiarism shtick; probing for bad things to see if they stick. This includes FOX; the formula Beltway Republicans want their bombings and terror wars; Rand is no pal of theirs.

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