The NSA Reform Bill That Isn't Pushes Forward

The bill by the woman who loves (most) NSA surveillance fails to reform NSA surveillance. Imagine that.


"The reforms! They do nothing!"
The Simpsons

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill to "reform" the National Security Agency's surveillance systems is moving forward, having passed a vote in the Senate Intelligence Committee Agency, 11-4. Tech privacy experts are banging their faces against their keyboards for good reason.

Here's how Feinstein promotes the reform in her own statement: "[It] prohibits the collection of bulk communication records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act except under specific procedures and restrictions set forth in the bill." Emphasis added.

The specific procedures and restrictions set forth? It's what they were already doing. This isn't a ban. It's permission. The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes:

Don't be fooled: the bill codifies some of the NSA's worst practices, would be a huge setback for everyone's privacy, and it would permanently entrench the NSA's collection of every phone record held by U.S. telecoms. We urge members of Congress to oppose it.

We learned for the first time in June that the NSA secretly twisted and re-interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act six years ago to allow them to vacuum up every phone record in America—continuing an unconstitutional program that began in 2001. The new leaks about this mass surveillance program four months ago have led to a sea change in how Americans view privacy, and poll after poll has shown the public wants it to stop.

But instead of listening to her constituents, Sen. Feinstein put forth a bill designed to allow the NSA to monitor their calls. Sen. Feinstein wants the NSA to continue to collect the metadata of every phone call in the United States—that's who you call, who calls you, the time and length of the conversation, and under the government's interpretation, potentially your location—and store it for five years. This is not an NSA reform bill, it's an NSA entrenchment bill.

Other parts of the bill claim to bring a modicum of transparency to small parts of the NSA, but requiring some modest reporting requirements, like how many times NSA searches this database and audit trails for who does the searching.

But its real goal seems to be to just paint a veneer of transparency over still deeply secret programs. It does nothing to stop NSA from weakening entire encryption systems, it does nothing to stop them from hacking into the communications links of Google and Yahoo's data centers, and it does nothing to reform the PRISM Internet surveillance program.

Reason's Ron Bailey previously warned about this terrible legislation and noted the much better alternatives by other congressmen that actually would limit bulk data collection and preserve Americans' online privacy.



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  1. Kill it with fire. (the bill and Feinstein)

  2. That’s some Fun Friday alt-text right there

  3. This is to cool off the base. “Look, we passed a bill!” Then they can “put this dispute behind us, since we’ve addressed the problem in legislation.”

    1. Also to cool off the moderates, and the “national-security conservatives.”

  4. This isn’t a ban. It’s permission.

    Why do they need new legislation since we’ve repeatedly been told they’re not doing anything illegal?

    1. Why do you insist on bringing up yesterday’s talking points?

      I’m guessing the new talking point is that they’re “clarifying the law in light of recent controversies,” blah blah.

  5. The specific procedures and restrictions set forth? It’s what they were already doing. This isn’t a ban. It’s permission.

    Cut the woman some slack, Scott. She’s suffering from dementia, and her colleagues are just voting “yea” so as to not upset her.

  6. Dianne approved of spying on Americans, she was just pissed that she wasn’t in on the game. So this bill clears everything up, as far as that’s concerned.

    Also, nice use of one of the best Simpsons scenes ever.

  7. What is with female politicians from California that makes them so utterly despicable?

    1. What is with female politicians from California that makes them so utterly despicable?

      We’re distracted by bikini-clad and/or hard bodied beach volleyball players.

      1. It was brave of you to post that, jesse. As a gay man, photos of him must be like Kryptonite.

        1. It’s fine, I was skimming the morning links and Tonio and KK were discussing Ben Cohen, I’ve completely forgotten the contents of that link.

          *clicks on link to remind self*

          Why did I link a picture of an overgrown naked mole rat?

  8. Time for Rand Paul to rev up the filibuster again.

    1. Maybe team up with Cruz. Tag team filibuster!

    2. Filibuster is nice, but putting effort behind the Sensenbrenner-Leahy bill that actually does something is better.

  9. We all need to take responsibility for securing our own privacy. It starts with getting out of corporation ecosystems that are fueled by big data. Wipe your computer clean and install an encrypted version of Ubuntu Gnome 13.10 (Not Canonical’s Ubuntu, they have sold out as well).

    If you use Sprint, Verizon or AT&T, cancel your contract now. Get a pre-paid t-mobile data connection. I am actually waiting for SailfishOS to be officially released; it’s an open-source mobile OS by ex-Nokia employees. It’s built on Linux and they have enabled users to be able to run Android apps. Until then run stock Android and do not connect to a Google Account.

    If you use dropbox, get rid of it and download ownCloud. If you have gmail, stop using it as your primary email and dedicate it as your spam mail/app email. Look into the new Dark Mail Alliance.

    Get off Facebook, while you are logged in they are tracking everything you do. They scrape your mail contacts and are trying to build a full profiles of their end-users to sell to big data marketers. They have been using facial recognition since 2007 and are constantly tweaking their algorithms to more accurately identity people in photos.

    I’m an open-source OOP application developer. I know technology can be intimidating, but if you want your digital sovereignty it’s now your responsibility.

  10. If Diane Feinstein were supporting a bill called “Save all the Puppies”, you can safely assume that it would be a death sentence for every dog in the country. It’s par for the course for this shit bag.

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