Surveillance

Sen. Mitch McConnell Looks To Undermine Efforts to Protect Americans From Secret FBI Surveillance

An amendment to a FISA renewal bill would let the FBI snoop on your online browser history.

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If you needed a reminder that several Republican lawmakers only care about secret surveillance when their guy is the target, keep an eye on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.).

This week the Senate is expected to vote to renew some Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities that expired in March. As part of the renewal, some privacy-minded senators from both sides of the aisle are attempting to attach some reforms to better protect Americans from warrantless surveillance.

On Monday, Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast reported that McConnell, who is urging senators to reject these reforms, is circulating an amendment that would actually expand the authority of the FBI to secretly snoop on citizens.

Two independent sources provided a copy of the amendment to Reason. As Ackerman reported, the amendment would give the FBI the authority under the PATRIOT Act to secretly collect the browsing records and search history of Americans without a warrant.

McConnell's amendment accomplishes this by adding the words "internet website browsing records, internet search history records" to the list of records described in FISA law that covers FBI searches that require businesses to provide customer records. In other words, this amendment would permit the FBI to turn to your internet provider and demand they fork over your browser history.

Needless to say, this is not going over well with the senators and privacy activists who are actually trying to reform FISA to better protect Americans' privacy. From The Daily Beast:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) said that Barr, who has been deeply involved in investigations of interest to Trump, could authorize an investigation into a political rival, which could then unlock the internet-spying powers McConnell wants to grant the FBI.

"Under the McConnell amendment, Barr gets to look through the web browsing history of any American—including journalists, politicians, and political rivals—without a warrant, just by saying it is relevant to an investigation," said Wyden, who has been trying to ban warrantless surveillance on such records.

McConnell's amendment is clearly intended to replace and subvert a rival amendment by Wyden and Sen. Steve Daines (R–Mont.). The amendment would forbid the FBI from warrantlessly demanding a person's website browsing or search history.

Another amendment by Sens. Mike Lee (R–Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D–Vt.) would bolster Americans' privacy protections by calling for amicus curiae—outside advisers—to work with the FISA court to advocate on behalf of the privacy rights of Americans who may be targeted in these secret investigations. McConnell has also introduced an amendment to subvert Lee and Leahy's amendment by limiting the review by these attorneys to cases involving a campaign for federal office or somebody who may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Essentially, McConnell is trying to adjust this law so that it would only apply to cases like the Russian probe into President Donald Trump and his former staff like Mike Flynn and Carter Page, but not the rest of us.

Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) is trying to amend the FISA law to simply demand warrants from a conventional court when surveilling American citizens, period. McConnell is warning against Paul's bill. A fact sheet being sent around to the Senate (that was also provided to Reason) states that Paul's amendment would lead to "annihilating FISA and putting Americans in danger." The fact sheet lists all the terrorists that the feds wouldn't have been able to secretly snoop on under Paul's warrant demands, which includes the San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, the Tsarnaev brothers responsible for the bombing of the Boston Marathon, and one of the bombers responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing—arguments that might have been more compelling if this warrantless surveillance had actually prevented any of these attacks.

A group of more than 35 civil rights and privacy groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, Demand Progress, and FreedomWorks, sent a letter Monday urging senators to pass the amendments by Daines, Wyden, Lee, Leahy, and Paul, and reject any others that undermine these enhanced privacy protections (like McConnell's). Read their letter here.

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  1. As part of the renewal, some privacy-minded senators from both sides of the aisle are attempting to attach some reforms to better protect Americans from warrantless surveillance.

    They could always vote to let it lapse. Also, how hard is it to get a FISA warrant in the first place? Seems like our deep state feds are able to get warrants from FISA judges pretty effortlessly.

    1. Obviously the best solution is to vote for the Libertarian party this November. If neither Democrats nor Republicans can respect our civil liberties, we need to show them our disgust by voting for an irrelevant third party filled with loonies.

      1. If neither Democrats nor Republicans can respect our civil liberties, we need to show them our disgust by voting for an irrelevant third party filled with loonies.

        When your only other option is a vote to approve the status quo, yes.

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  2. #MoscowMitch is almost as bad as Putin’s Puppet.

    1. Thankfully, after Joe wins the election this November and dies of COVID-19, a strong black woman (either Kamela Harris or Stacy Abrams) will be Madam President!

    2. He’s the NSA’s puppet, basically; Like a number of key members of Congress, he’s too dirty to risk pissing off the intelligence services.

  3. If you needed a reminder that several Republican lawmakers only care about secret surveillance when their guy is the target, keep an eye on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.).

    *Reads article*

    Republican lawmakers in favor:
    McConnell

    Republican lawmakers opposed:
    Daines, Lee, Paul

    *counts ‘several’ on fingers*

    Apparently, McConnell contains multitudes.

    1. Seeing that Repubs already passed the section 702 extension and signed by Trump, I’d say that is a fair charge. We’ll see if the newest revelations changed any minds but I’d bet against any real reforms getting passed.

      1. I’m not opposed to the idea or fact that several Republican lawmakers only care about secret surveillance when their guy is the target, I’m opposed to the ‘reporting’ that ‘several’ are and then providing literally zero evidence that more than one are.

        If I said I’d give you several thousands of dollars to buy a new car and then gave you $1,000, you would rightfully call me a liar.

        1. I’m not opposed to the idea or fact that several Republican lawmakers only care about secret surveillance when their guy is the target

          Being clear, I wish they would lose their jobs and/or get voted out of office for doing so, but would need to see evidence of such, which isn’t presented, first.

        2. I’d say thank you but understand your point.

        3. It’s a good point, mad.c. But I would also point out that the Majority Leader being for an amendment most likely means that a lot of his caucus will also be in favor.

          1. “Or else”.

    2. You assume that Mitch thinks Trump is “their” guy.

  4. It’s easy for McConnell to back surveillance when he can always hide in his shell.

  5. “A fact sheet being sent around to the Senate (that was also provided to Reason) states that Paul’s amendment would lead to “annihilating FISA and putting Americans in danger.”

    Sounds like the argument that the “Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Surely, the “Rule of Law” always puts some Americans in danger? Curiously, many of those who demand “rule of law” (as it applies to Gen. Flynn) also support warrantless FISA, snooping on hair salon parlors, and destroying evidence before it can be produced in an investigation.

  6. //Two independent sources provided a copy of the amendment to Reason. As Ackerman reported, the amendment would give the FBI the authority under the PATRIOT Act to secretly collect the browsing records and search history of Americans without a warrant.//

    With a warrant, without a warrant. What difference is there? FISA courts approve virtually every warrant application in front of them, reflexively. All of these reforms are completely pointless if the price for violating the law is a slap on the wrist and if, at the end of the day, we are willing to simply accept an apology for “mistakes that have been made.”

    It is all theater. Less reforms. More prosecutions.

    1. If the only constitutional protections I can get these days are performative, I’ll take them. At least my tax dollars are paying for actual busywork instead of just feds too lazy to get off their ass while violating my privacy.

      1. No reason not to accept the performance and ask for more substantive reform. We can do both.

      2. If the FBI is willing to lie on a warrant, and if FISA courts have no independent means of verifying any of the facts attested to in a warrant application, the warrant requirement is pointless. In fact, it is worse than pointless because it diffuses responsibility for bad behavior.

        So, I go back to prosecutions. Or, alternatively, all applications for a warrant have to be made in a regular district court, under seal, with mandatory reporting to congress every thirty days, and/or availability upon request. No more secret courts.

        1. The difference is that FISA happens in secret. It’s best to get these things out into the light of the normal court system, even if the problems still exist.

    2. FISA courts approve virtually every warrant application in front of them, reflexively.

      Moreover, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that Google doesn’t even waste time with rubber stamps on any request that comes in on FBI letterhead. The idea that the techs run everything by legal first to make sure there’s a warrant on file is pretty laughable.

    3. Came here to say similar. as John as stated if there is no punishment for the criminal abuse what good are any any of the laws except for the 2nd amendment but we are saving that for the last resort and we aren’t there yet i hope

  7. Internet browsing history is mostly meaningless anyway. You can clear it out or use private browsing. What you cannot do is erase sever logs. In that case use tor and vpn. But honestly most of that is a waste of time. They can find a crime on you if they want because that’s how the system now works. Flynn found that out but most Americans just roll over and take it because it’s cheaper.

    And watching my fellow citizens during this non crisis I am less convinced we can avoid the hegemony.

    1. This isn’t about the browsing history on your local machine. This is the browsing history your ISP keeps from your interactions with them. You can’t clear it or do it anonymously unless you are encrypting your transmissions.

      Just remember kids! Every knee shall bow!

  8. http://www.zerohedge.com/political/obamagate-trump-tweets-tucker-carlsons-crushing-breakdown-why-former-president-should-be

    Maybe an article about the Obama administration illegal political spying program that goes back to 2012?
    Too much to ask this rag?

    1. What difference, at this point, does it make?

  9. If you don’t have a VPN, use encrypted DNS. From there, you can find privacy-respecting options for most things you need on the Internet

    1. Wouldn’t necessarily protect against browser history… inpsections.

  10. How hard could it possibly be to add a line specifying that only the good FBI agents could use this power and not the bad ones? Do I have to think of everything?

  11. What a bunch of assholes.

  12. Speaking of the FBI… I just watched the series Waco on Netflix. I’d recommend it. I think it seems like a fair portrayal of how crazy things were, and not just inside the compound like we were all led to believe at the time.

  13. Basically the problem here is that a number of well placed members of Congress are too dirty to risk pissing off the intelligence serviced. They’re either being blackmailed, or know they could be.

    We’re far down the road to secret rule by the secret police, due to widespread surveillance having as its first target the government itself. I think we’re actually in a situation at this point where there’s no nice way out, we either continue down the road to secret oligarchy, or have a vicious confrontation where a lot of incumbents’ dirty laundry gets spilled.

    Even back when Clinton was being impeached, the Republican leadership were too dirty to have any independence. It’s only gotten worse since.

    I think that’s why they’re so horrified at Trump being President: He may be somewhat dirty, but he doesn’t have a clean enough reputation for anything they’ve got him on to be good blackmail material. So they can’t push him around as much as they’d like.

  14. This would also interact with the federal evidence tampering statute, which means that deleting your browser history for any reason at all would be a federal felony with a 20 year prison sentence attached.

    The evidence tampering statute turns on the possibility of a federal investigation, not whether there actually is one. So even if you know you’re not under investigation, deleting your browser history would make you a felon.

  15. Heard Senator Rand Paul in an interview today. Paul expressed that he had spoken with Trump and expressed that the current version was a sham under the guise of reform.

    Trump has been warned so there is no excuse for his signing another reform sham. Trump has been personally burned by FISA and should have a real axe to grind and sufficient motivation to wield that axe against it.

  16. All citizens have the power to nullify this if it becomes law. As usual, technology saves us from bad government: DoH, VPNs, and TOR will go a long way here.

  17. The FISA Court must be abolished, pure and simple. This FISA court was an experiment that failed spectacularly.

  18. The problem is institutional, not mitch McConnell.

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