NSA

White House Makes It Official: It Wants to Keep Snooping on Americans

Trump and group of GOP senators don't want us to have greater privacy protections from unwarranted domestic surveillance.

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Sen. Tom Cotton
Cheriss May/ZUMA Press/Newscom

President Donald Trump and allies may complain on Twitter and out loud how the Deep State illegally snooped on him under his predecessor, Barack Obama, but that doesn't mean the White House wants less surveillance authority.

The White House and several GOP senators have made it official: They want to make some significant surveillance authorities permanent under law without addressing concerns by civil liberties and privacy advocates that these authorities are being used to collect Americans' data without the use of warrants.

What we're talking about is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments. Section 702 grants some important authorities for the National Security Agency (NSA) to engage in unwarranted surveillance of foreign agents and potential threats overseas. It expires this year if Congress doesn't renew it.

The problem: While Section 702 is sold as a mechanism of snooping on foreign agents and potential terrorists in other countries, it also ends up collecting private information and communications from Americans if they've made contact with these targets. When Trump complained his campaign had been snooped upon while communicating with officials connected to foreign governments (like Russian and Turkey), in all likelihood, the foreign officials were the actual targets.

The NSA has "minimization" procedures when private data and communications originating from American citizens ends up "incidentally" gathered through Section 702. NSA analysts aren't supposed to be able to easily invade the privacy of citizens.

But there is an "unmasking" process for select people in the government to see names and more identifying information than they would otherwise. According to a recent report, names were unmasked, revealing the identity of a U.S. citizen, on at least 1,200 occasions in 2016.

In this process of "backdoor" searches, the federal government is clearly gaining limited access to the private communications of citizens without getting warrants and with much more limited oversight (there is a FISA court, but it doesn't operate the same way as a normal court in oversight of these 702 searches). And therefore citizens are not aware when the government has collected and accessed data about them.

But despite Trump's complaints about allegedly illegal unmasking, the White House has taken to The New York Times to call for Section 702 to be renewed and made permanent. There's some circular reasoning here in the response to critics who want better protections to keep citizens data from being reviewed:

[I]t does not permit backdoor targeting of Americans, whose communications with foreign persons can be incidentally captured in the process. National security officials may use search terms or identifiers associated with Americans, such as an email address, to query the information lawfully acquired using Section 702 authority.

But this does not entail the collection or search of any new information, and the practice has been upheld by the FISA court and all other federal courts that have considered this issue. It is also consistent with the long history of our legal system. Imposing a warrant requirement to conduct such data queries, as some in Congress have proposed, would be legally unnecessary and a step toward re-erecting pre-9/11 barriers to our ability to identify foreign terrorists and their contacts.

It's legal because the law says it's legal. That's not exactly an argument against changing the law if people don't agree with the amount of authority it grants to both the NSA and the FBI.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), who appears to have hitched his star to any wagon promising a more authoritarian government, is leading an effort among pro-surveillance Senate Republicans to keep 702 and the rest of the FISA authorities intact.

Even if the Republican Party controls Congress and has a supportive White House, that doesn't mean Cotton and Trump are going to get what they want. Pro-surveillance leaders in the Senate initially resisted the USA Freedom Act, which placed some limits on the government collection of Americans metadata, but the House's refusal to renew an expiring part of the Patriot Act (and a filibuster in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul) essentially forced its hand.

Section 702 expires if Congress refuses to act, and there are libertarian-leaning Republicans in both the House and the Senate who might resist permanent renewal. It's really hard to pass a bill through Congress these days, and if enough Republicans refuse, Cotton may end up with the opposite of what he's demanding here. Those who are resistant to blanket renewal have the leverage here.

Even as the administration is trying to keep its surveillance powers intact, it's retreating on a promise under the Obama administration (and repeated under the Trump administration) to give Americans an estimate of how many of them have had their data secretly collected by the NSA.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) under former head James Clapper promised to provide some basic information so Americans had a better understanding of it breadth. But Dan Coats, Clapper's successor, said last week he would not be able to provide an estimate.

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  1. Drain the swamp!*

    *and replace it with a very slightly different swamp

    1. The White House and several GOP senators have made it official: They want to make some significant surveillance authorities permanent under law without addressing concerns by civil liberties and privacy advocates that these authorities are being used to collect Americans’ data without the use of warrants.
      That is what the NYT says Trump wants.

      Why does Reason keep regurgitating the other media assumptions as if it was gospel?

      President Trump stands with them 100 percent on the need for permanent reauthorization of Section 702.
      Not a single quote or other reference to what Trump has actually said.

      We are supposed to believe the NYT now after all the spin and outright lies coming from that rag?

      1. You don’t have to work so hard at carrying water for Trump, you know.

        1. You don’t have to work so hard carrying water for the lying media and its useful idiots, you know.

          1. Donald Trump is not a libertarian and never was, and i’m not sure how noticing that counts as standing up for the media, but whatever. You do you, man.

            1. The media is saying the stuff that Shackford regurgitated.

              I am just advocating making the media support what they are saying.

              In other words, not jumping on the TDS bandwagon without proof.

              I already know that Trump is not a Libertarian but he has been able to do things that are Libertarian-ish, like nominate Gorsuch.

              1. I don’t know if these are joke comments or not, but that commentary is written by a White House official, not the New York Times. It was published in the Times.

                It is, quite literally, the White House declaring its support for renewal.

                1. There’s two forms of TDS, and both are about equally harmful.

                  There’s Trump Derangement Syndrome, the left’s, and in particular the identity politics crew’s foaming at the mouth over anything Trump says or does.

                  Then there’s Trump Dicksucking Syndrome, which seems to have infected a lot of the commentariat here at Reason, where people foam at the mouth to get their mouth on Trump’s dick and defend or make excuses for anything he does.

                2. I was not joking.

                  Which White House official, Scott? All your article and the NYT says is Trump says this and that. Without clarifying that it’s an official press release or some video or a person can quote Trump saying that.

                  It’s not that I don’t trust you but I don’t trust the media.

                  1. You still haven’t read the NYT link. You still didn’t even click it, I bet. It appears you did read Scott’s comment, though you do not seem to have processed most of the words.

                    1. You just need to read a bit better Green. As with Scott’s article, the NYT article never mentions who at the white house is saying this or will quote Trump.
                      “President Trump stands with them 100 percent on the need for permanent reauthorization of Section 702. “-NYT
                      Did Trump say this and when?

                      The writer of the article, Thomas P. Bossert is the homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Trump. This guy does not speak for the President or he should say so.

                      Tom Cotton is in the Senate and proposed the bill to reauthorize sec. 702. He also does not speak for Trump or that should be clarified.

                      See, certain people want to spin things and then get caught. If something is said by Trump, quote him or tell us who is saying this is official policy by the White House.

                    2. Hey, you finally clicked the link! Now, 1) admit that you made an ignorant complaint above, 2) recognize that Scott says “the White House,” not “President Trump,” 3) recognize that a WH official publishing an op-ed in the NYT does so as an organ of the WH, his ‘opinion’ taken as the official opinion of the administration.

                      In other words, act like a functioning adult.

                      Also: “President Trump stands with them 100 percent on the need for permanent reauthorization of Section 702.” But maybe he’s just guessing!

                    3. I guess you cannot read.

                      The NYT op-ed guy, Bossett, is not speaking for the white house nor Trump. He is an advisor and giving his opinion. Yet is saying that “President Trump stands with them 100 percent on the need for permanent reauthorization of Section 702.”

                      Therefore, an opinion does not equate to what the White House will or will not do.

                      As I said, Scott and Bossett are advocating that official Trump policy is something that it is not. Scott said “It is, quite literally, the White House declaring its support for renewal.”

                      You people are just going to keep doubling down on spinning what is official White House policy by someone who does not control white house policy and will not quote Trump.

      2. You didn’t read the NYT link. You didn’t even click it, I bet. Nor did you read a few more paragraphs into Scott’s piece, or if you did read it, your mind did not process the words.

        1. It’s called reading. You can do it. Use your words.

          1. You use your words when you read? Like you have to mouth them or say them out loud?

            1. I know it sucks that you cannot read. I can teach you the alphabet, if you like.

      3. So the Trump Administration isn’t calling for the permanent renewal of Section 702?

        If the story is true then I fail to see why it matters that the source reporting it comes from NYT.

        http://thehill.com/blogs/ballo…..rveillance

        http://www.washingtontimes.com…..-err-side/

        The only surveillance Trump seems to have a problem with is when its done against him.

      4. You do realize it’s an opinion article from one of Trump’s advisers? It’s not some liberal journalist. Are we supposed to believe he’s lying when he says Trump supports it?

        1. We can only trust what comes out of Trump’s mouth, and even then, half of what he says is sarcasm or deliberate trolling of dumb lefties or part of five dimensional chess, so you’re wrong to take his words as actual endorsements either. Heads he wins, tails you lose.

    2. We replaced the alligators with crocodiles.

      1. As long as its less crocodiles.

    3. Drain the swamp!*

      *and replace it with a very slightly different swamp

      Oh sure, next you’ll be telling me that a slick, Nee-ew Yee-ork reelestate developer doesn’t know the difference between a swamp and a seasonal wetland.

  2. Did anyone ever think trump was not going to be a deep state spending drunk like the rest? He said he would.

    1. Very true. That is literally what he ran on if you had the basic level of experience listening to campaigning needed to parse it. No entitlement cuts, infrastructure is good, the military is good, Obama’s plans are bad but my plans will be great. If he was ever asked about fiscal conservatism he just implied that he’s such a great dealmaker that he’d make up all shortfalls with “good deals”.

      Hey, I’m semi-glad to get power out of the Democrats’ hands, but I sure have low expectations for liberty for the next 4 years.

  3. This is the positive of having a Republican in the White House. Some ‘libertarians’ suddenly rediscover civil liberties, if and when they can use that to attack the Republican in the White House. Unmasking is a concern suddenly, but only after the Susan Rice story has faded into the background.

    This is definitely a positive. This may actually lead to a push back.

    1. You must not have been here during the NSA exposure, when Obama signed the 2012 NDAA, expanded warrantless wiretapping, etc.

      1. No, I was. But, I wasn’t referring to this publication. I was more so referencing so called ‘libertarian’ leaning representatives like Ron Wyden. Although, the recent concern over unmasking is interesting.

        1. What did you used to call yourself? I have a hard time keeping track when people change handles. I thought you were new here.

        2. Wyden is a pretty liberal guy, but when it comes to civil liberties he’s been pretty consistent… credit where credit is due and all.

    2. Some ‘libertarians’ suddenly rediscover civil liberties, if and when they can use that to attack the Republican in the White House.
      Who are these “libertarians” you are always talking about? All the libertarians I know or pay attention too have been consistently opposed to all warrantless domestic surveillance and consistently defending civil liberties? Now that may just reflect my selection bias. But I really have no idea who you are referring to.

      1. All the libertarians I know or pay attention too have been consistently opposed to all warrantless domestic surveillance and consistently defending civil liberties?

        You must have missed the Libertarian Party presidential nominee and vice presidential nominee all of 6 months ago.

  4. White House Makes It Official: It Wants to Keep Snooping on Americans

    “I can’t honestly decide whether to say, “Duh,” uh, “Doy,” or a very sarcastic, “Oh, really?”

  5. Even as the administration is trying to keep its surveillance powers intact, it’s retreating on a promise under the Obama administration (and repeated under the Trump administration) to give Americans an estimate of how many of them have had their data secretly collected by the NSA.

    I suspect the answer is “all of us.”

    1. I suspect the answer is “all of us.”

      At some point the collection becomes overt rather than secretive.

  6. Sessions is obstructing the Congressional investigation as I type this. He is refusing to answer questions.

    1. Since when did not talking become obstruction?

      Police tend to use that logic too.

  7. I’m writing a letter to Dianne Feinstein urging her to not support this.

  8. “President Donald Trump and allies may complain on Twitter and out loud how the Deep State illegally snooped on him under his predecessor, Barack Obama, but that doesn’t mean the White House wants less surveillance authority.”

    I remember when the idea that the Obama administration snooped on the Trump campaign was a crazy conspiracy theory. That seems to have gone out the window. Now I guess the narrative has it that the information the Obama administration’s investigation dug up is damning.

    If you ask what they found, you might be a redneck.

    1. That would be admissions of (1) Trump being correct about the spying (2) another example of the government blatantly violating the constitution (3) the media was/is complicit in violations of the constitution- at least under Obama.

    2. Are you still pretending that Trump’s allegations were “some members of my campaign were under surveillance” and not that Obama personally ordered a wiretap in Trump Tower?

  9. We need more Muslims so the internal security state can continue to justify it’s own existence. The left and the left libertarians will see to it, fear not.

    1. Yeah, libertarians have a whole lot of influence on immigration policy.

      1. I don’t see anyone else jumping with joy at the prospect of massive influxes of Muslim migrants.

        1. I don’t see many libertarians doing that either. And whether or not they do, they still aren’t setting immigration policy.

          I don’t really think I need to point this out, but just to be safe: not vigorously opposing something doesn’t imply that one is “jumping for joy” at the prospect.

    2. We need more guns so the statists can continue to justify their own existence…

      We need more weed so the statists can continue to justify their own existence…

      Yeah, lets totally make this about immigrantz and teh muzlemz.

  10. It’s legal because the law says it’s legal.

    “The law” excluding the Constitution?

  11. If the amount of info the intel community has on Trump isn’t sufficient to dissuade him from talking shit about Comey and the intel community, maybe the amount of info they have on us mere mortals isn’t sufficient to worry about. I know if anybody had talked shit about J Edgar back in the day, all kinds of dirt would be leaked to the press and if they screwed with the CIA they’d be liable to have their head blown off by some lone whacko. (Is Trump planning a motorcade through Dallas anytime soon? Maybe he should keep the top up.)

      1. “Grassy knoll” was this girl’s nickname in college.

  12. You damn well know Trump expected Sessions to “do something” about those fake Russian investigations. You damn well know they talked about it. Trump obsessed about it and was pissed when he heard Sessions had recused himself from the investigations so why was he pissed if not but for an expectation that having Sessions in charge of the investigations was an asset for Trump. Sessions is refusing to disclose any of his conversations with Trump with the Senate but hopefully Sessions will have to answer to the special prosecutor.

    1. I prefer Trump to Pence.

      1. I saw an ‘Everybody Sucks 2016’ bumper sticker on my way home last night and it made me chuckle. We should just start making up random quasi-sensible bumper stickers; Hatch/Tillerson 2018.

        1. Mattis/Sessions 2019.
          Perry/DeVos 2020.

          1. I.Trump/C.Clinton 2024

        2. Hitler/Stalin 2024

    2. So you are skeptical of government when Trump is President but not when Obama was President?

  13. I don’t think Trump is being logically inconsistent. He claims that the unmasking was illegal. Not that the law is bad.

    I think.

    I would prefer they scrap the whole thing now that we know the government can’t be trusted. But it isn’t illogical to fail to go that far. It is just wrong.

    1. Trump also claims that it was done for political purposes.

      I have not heard Trump speak out to stop this domestic surveillance so you might be right about Trump not considering the the law bad, per se. Just how its used.

  14. How could we have greater privacy protections from unwarranted government surveillance? It’s already prohibited by the Bill of Rights.

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