Surveillance Program Backers Resisted Basic Oversight


credit: Billboard Liberation Front / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Here's something important to remember about yesterday's revelation that the National Security Agency has been hovering up data on every call made by every Verizon customer in the country: It's not just that there isn't enough oversight of federal surveillance operations. It's that the congressional legislators behind the program haven actively resisted even modest attempts at oversight. And they've done so under the pretense that those modest efforts would undermine national security. 

Whenthe FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012, which broadly governs federal electronic surveillance activities, was up for a vote in the Senate at the tail end of last year, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced two amendments that would have added a layer of oversight to certain federal surveillance activities. Cato security policy analyst (and Reason contributing editor)  Julian Sanchez explained those two amendments back in December:

One would require the NSA to produce a rough estimate of how many Americans' communications are intercepted under the sweeping "vacuum cleaner" style programs authorized by FAA, which they have thus far refused to do, probably in part because the number would be distressingly high.  A second would prohibit "backdoor searches" targeting Americans.  The idea here is that precisely because warrantless FISA surveillance is so sweeping, and large numbers of Americans' communications are likely to end up in the NSA database even if foreign groups are in theory the "target" of surveillance—as we know has already happened on a large scale—it becomes possible to effectively "target" Americans simply by entering their names or other identifying information in searches of the database.  That's obviously a way of circumventing the law's ban on "reverse targeting" that is really meant to spy on Americans under authority nominally aimed at foreigners. Wyden's amendment would simply require an individualized FISA warrant when agents want to search their vast communications database for a particular American's information. The NSA has objected to the term "backdoor searches" and the characterization of this process as a "loophole" in the law—but they certainly haven't denied that the law as written allows them to do this, and have resisted this effort to prohibit it. 

This is basic stuff: How many people are being affected? Are security agencies actually targeting individuals, rather than performing broad sweeps of innocent citizens? (As Sanchez noted elsewhere, the NSA has argued that it cannot reveal how many Americans are swept up in its surveillance efforts, because doing so would violate your privacy. As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.) 

Many of the law's backers seem to think that even the basic oversight questions Wyden's amendments pose go too far. And besides, they say, there's plenty of oversight already. "I don't think there's any program that has more vigorous oversight," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) during debate over the law in December of last year.

In the end, the Act passed a five-year reauthorization without Wyden's amendments. But now, with the latest news, we can start to answer those questions: Information about calls made by millions of Americans is being collected and stored, and the surveillance program is targeting, at minimum, everyone and every call on one of the nation's two largest wireless carriers. 

For a long time, Sen. Wyden, along with folks like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), has been warning that Americans would be "shocked" if they actually knew the extent of the domestic surveillance activities that the administration believes are within its legal right. We still don't have a complete picture—but we've got a glimpse, and Wyden, it seems, was right. 

NEXT: Reinforcements Being Sent to Guantanamo; Prison Staff to Reach 2,000

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  1. My cynicism of this country everything has been growing by leaps and bounds.

    What shall history say of these days?

    1. What shall history say of these days?

      Whatever the feds re-write it to say, of course.

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    2. In the lead up to the rise of the first dictator. . . .

      1. In the lead up to the rise of the first dictator Transcendant Leader, who lead our brutish and barbaric ancestors out of their slavish devotion to individual rights into a glorious collective future. . . .


        1. This is strictly amateur hour. The competent dictator will make it look like he’s restoring constitutional government.

          1. Caesar wasn’t asked into Rome because the Senate was performing its duty competently.

            1. I was thinking more Augustus. He restored the Roman constitution and limited government. Seriously, that was his platform after he killed off the opposition. It was a lie, of course, but a well-executed one.

          2. “The constitution really doesn’t say anything about those rights being individual rights. They’re collective rights, so as long as some are still able to exercise their rights, then collectively, we all still have rights.

            Take freedom of speech for example. There are those who say that we must endure listening to others opinions even when we disagree with them. But we must reject those voices, because as long some are able to express the RIGHT VIEWS, then we all have, collectively, retained the right to speak our mind.

            The 2nd ammendment is another good example. As long the police and military have guns, the rest of us have no need for them, and therefore the right to bear arms is not be infringed by a ban on private firearm ownership. Because it’s not in individual right, but a collective one.

            So when the Glorious God King Transcendant Leader of all he surveys implemented speech codes by executive order, or ordered the confiscation of all firearms after declaring martial law because Congress had become a cesspool of incompetence and corruption, he wasn’t actually destroying our rights, but was instead saving them from the morass of individualist thought.” /textbook from the future.

    3. That this was the beginning of the total decline of America into a third world dictatorship.

  2. What shall history say of these days?

    That Dianne Feinstein is a useless twat.

    1. “Dianne Feinstein is a useless twat.”

      Furiously etching this onto stone tablets as we speak to make historians of the post apocalyptic future aware.

    2. I was going to go for “insufferable cunt”, but that works.

      California’s Worst Senator, now and for all time.

    3. In that case, to quote the slogan, I make history every day.

    4. we don’t need to wait for history for that to be apparent.

  3. “I don’t think there’s any program that has more vigorous oversight,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein

    I still haven’t figured out if she’s really really really stupid or really really really slimy. I’m leaning towards the latter, though.

    1. I’d cite Hanlon’s Razor, but in this case, it’s clear that this is malice rather than stupidity.

      1. Ditto. I’m usually the first one to cite Hanlon’s Razor, but with people like DiFi, there’s just too much consistency to even believe that she has good intentions, but is misguided/misinformed.

        Her cunterific record shows that she is sincerely malicious.

        1. There’s no reason she can’t be both. In fact, she seems to be the poster child for stupid and malicious. In a way, that’s even more dangerous.

          1. I know the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I just think it’s more malice than stupidity.

            1. I think the stupidity exacerbates the malice. That’s why I said that in its way it’s even more dangerous for her to be both.

              1. I can tolerate the evil genius, because you have some hope of outwitting them in the end.

                But the evil idiot is uncontrollable.

                1. Agreed on both.

            2. She’s been consistent in her support of the Patriot Act, so I can’t attribute this particular incident to blatant partisanship. She’s just an evil bitch in general.

    2. She is clearly stupid. But makes up for it by being craven and evil.

      1. And ugly, if you want a third opinion.

    3. She is both.

  4. “I have this rock in my pocket, see?”

  5. Remember kids, no one is able to sue over this because since they don’t know who is actually being listened to, no one has standing to sue.

    1. Maybe a class action suit? Or couldn’t Verizon sue? Along the lines of the healthcare provider suing the IRS for the seizing of medical records of 10 million people. And, why isn’t that a huge IRS scandal?

      1. Verizon should just say no. It’s standing will be established when the feds abuse them.

        1. Verizon should just say no.

          That worked so well for Nacchio and Qwest. Even if he actually was insider trading.

          What are the odds that Verizon upper management is doing something that if discovered would land them at Club Fed? ITAR, FCPA, Trading with the Enemy acts: plenty of laws to run afoul of. And so they’ll cooperate fully.

          1. Everyone is guilty of something, with the regulatory mess we have today.

          2. As a telecom company, you exist at the whim of the government. Getting rid of the goddamn FCC would be an important first step in rectifying this situation, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

          3. This administration has already shown they don’t need to worry about an actual violation to harass you. How does aggressive IRS audits that extends back for the last 30 years sound? Not that Obama would ever use the IRS to politically target an opponent of course. {rollseyes}

            Oops, how did that confidential personal information get leaked to a liberal group like that? Wow, that’s a tough break.

            What you need a permit? So, sorry, but we are tied up at the moment. Try again, next year, or the year after or so.

            Sigh, the most transparently corrupt administration in history.

      2. Now that I think about it, you could sue over this. Anyone who is a Verizon customer is affected. The SCOTUS has ruled in other cases, no one can sue because no one knows for sure if they are being listened to.

        1. They could still squeeze that out of this, I’m sure, since no human is listening to even a percent of those calls.

          It’s bullshit, but so is our government.

        2. One article I read said the warrant was limited to Verizon business customers. So the Feds have been spying on coporate America not the average Joe or Jane.

          1. I guess corporations aren’t people.

            That makes even less sense, though. Precisely which business is operating terrorist cells in the U.S.?

            1. John Doe doesn’t have the resources to push a lawsuit against the feds, particularly when you have to prove standing first.

              But Microsoft, Google, Amazon, & Apple are sitting on billions of dollars. Any Fortune 500 company with an international sales staff that uses Verizon is going to be pissed as hell about this.

            2. My guess is the target is/was employees of military contractors.

            3. Can you say L-E-A-K?

            4. Al Qaeda, Inc. was discovered to be using Verizon business after the bin Laden raid.

              Okay, that’s totally made up, but would at least be comprehensible.

          2. Well, I guess that means we can forget about even a hindful of left-tards being outraged in the least over this. Because KKKORPORASHUNZ!!!11!!!!!

      3. Along the lines of the healthcare provider suing the IRS for the seizing of medical records of 10 million people. And, why isn’t that a huge IRS scandal?

        Because fuck you, that’s why.

        1. Yeah, but seizing medical records should piss everyone off (at least in California). It essentially randomly affects anyone regardless of race, age, gender, media, or Team. It’s 10 million people from California (1 in 4 people).

  6. I didn’t think I could loathe Lindsey Graham any more than I do after his insanely stupid “do bloggers deserve first amendment protections?” comment yesterday, but then he said this-

    “I’m a Verizon customer. I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States. I don’t think you’re talking to the terrorists. I know you’re not. I know I’m not. So we don’t have anything to worry about.”

    Your job as a senator is to uphold the constitution, and senator not only have you failed miserably at it, but I don’t think you have even the slightest idea what it means.

      1. Here’s the link for those who want to torture themselves further.


        1. So when Obama uses the NSA to collect information on him and a secret boy friend and uses it to extort him, I guess he will have no problem with it.

          1. Somehow I doubt Lindsey has thought this through that far yet.

            Hopefully his boyfriend will explain it to him.

            These people are really this stupid. It’s fucking TERRIFYING to think they are the ones running the nation.

            1. Perhaps the boyfriend would not want the world to know he has such horrible taste.

              Can’t you imagine the boyfriend’s cosmo crowd lampooning him for lubricating Lindsey’s ladle?

          2. It doesn’t even have to be that.

            Collect enough quotes from anyone, take them out of context, and you you can convict anyone of anything.

            One need look no further than the unlamented career of Elliot Spitzer to see that. (I am talking about how Spitzer rose, not how he fell.)

            1. Even how he fell is illustrative. Funny how the FBI just happened to stumbled upon the high end pimp that he used isn’t it?

            2. Well, Aresen, he was a fucking steamroller.

          3. Next time I hear some lefty friend whinge about the sequester, THIS.

          4. I think you mean, Since the NSA has collected information on him and his secret boyfriend he’s towing the line.

    1. Ah yes, the old “if you’re not doing anything you don’t have anything to worry about” line of argumentation. Because it’s not like its possible that this kind of thing violates some kind of principle or anything like that. And besides, we have to give up our freedoms or else TEH TERRISTS WIN and anyone who thinks otherwise just hates ‘murrca!

      What a shitheel. I sincerely hope he dies in fire some day very soon.

    2. Lindsey Graham, the Senior United States Fellator from South Carolina

  7. Here’s something important to remember about yesterday’s revelation that the National Security Agency has been hovering up data on every call made by every Verizon customer in the country:

    I believe this should be “Hoovering” or perhaps “hoovering.” I’m not sure which style guide you use.

    1. Suder-Man is a Fowler’s Modern English Usage guy, I hear.

    2. Know you not of the government’s secret power of levitation?

      1. Is this where the phrase “light in the loafers” came from?

        1. Yes. People misunderstand that all the time. It’s why government officials leave no trace when the walk.

          1. It’s also how some are able to walk on water, or so the prog-tards tell me.

          2. It turned out Carradine was a bit of a freak, but only insofar as he liked autoeroticasphyxiation.

            1. No way. He was murdered.

    3. I’d say “hoovering”. I believe this refers to the vacuum cleaner manufacturer, not J. Edgar.

      1. The manufacturer’s name is also a proper noun.

        1. Agreed, but when the word passes into common usage as a verb doesn’t that free us from capitalization? I honestly don’t know if there are rules for such things.

          1. That’s how I’ve always seen it. I’ll capitalize Google when I’m talking about the company or the specific search engine, but I don’t capitalize it when I tell you to google something.

          2. I assume lower case is correct too, I was just pointing out that J. Egar really has nothing to do with it.

            1. I don’t know, wouldn’t “Hoovering”, as in J. Edgar, be entirely apropos for this story?

    4. Perhaps it means they are lifting the data from their servers, or maybe it means the interns at Reason need to be rotated again.

  8. This is all child’s play compared to Obama’s Executive Order 13603, which lays the legal groundwork for the Federal government, in the name of a very nebulously defined “national emergency”, to confiscate all food, water, energy sources, medicine, industrial materials, transportation, and labor via the Defense Production Act of 1950.

    1. It is just a restatement of what they actually did in World War II.

  9. BTW, since Conor Friedersdrof has been getting positive mentions around here lately, here he is making excuses for the failures of the leftist media:


    My favorite bit:

    “No one is in charge here. This is where the Pravda metaphor fails. The American media may have a pack mentality at times, but news-gathering is ultimately a decentralized enterprise. Its uncoordinated nature is a boon to its independence, but no outlet can cover every important story, and with no one coordinating, sometimes an important story is undercovered by the press as a whole, without any individual ”

    JournoList didn’t organize itself, sparky.

    1. I read that. I emailed him and said, you know Connor, you have a point. It is not that journalists try to be biased, is that they are morons who don’t know anything about the subjects they cover and thus don’t know how to keep their biases out of their reporting.

      He never has wrote back.

      1. Hey, lil’ Conor is no different than Weigel. They know where their bread is buttered if you want to make it as a print journalist. Biting the hand that feeds you is always a dicey move.

    2. since Conor Friedersdrof has been getting positive mentions around here lately

      Most libertarian at The Atlantic is like tallest midget. Of course he’s not perfectly aligned with the reasonoid crowd.

  10. You know who else claimed “national security”…

      1. Actually, I had Tricky Dick in mind.
        And the dems went ballistic when he pulled this shit.

        1. things have changed since then. You know *rising intonation* terrorism!

    1. Oh, I know!


  11. Suderman is resisting alt-text oversight.

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