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Congress Curbs NSA Access To Phone Records While Resurrecting Spying Powers

Headlines Politics Tribune News Service

Congress Curbs NSA Access To Phone Records While Resurrecting Spying Powers

Rand Paul

By Sean Cockerham and William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the government’s access to Americans’ phone records on Tuesday, two days after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s opposition to the bill forced National Security Agency surveillance powers to go dark.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act, which would renew Patriot Act provisions that expired on Sunday night but start a six-month process of taking phone records from the government and leaving them with the phone companies. The NSA could access the data on a case-by-case basis with a secret court order.

“It’s extremely significant, that for the first time since 9/11, Congress is enacting legislation that would actually limit intelligence authorities rather than dramatically expanding them, which has been the trend,” said Elizabeth Goitein, a national security expert at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice.

The 67-32 vote comes two years after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of the government’s phone data collection program. Several senators called him a traitor on Tuesday, but the changes to the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records wouldn’t have happened without him.

Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy legal director, called the bill “a testament to the significance of the Snowden disclosures” but said it’s just a start.

“The bill leaves many of the government’s most intrusive and overbroad surveillance powers untouched, and it makes only very modest adjustments to disclosure and transparency requirements,” he said.

The bill already passed the House of Representatives and now goes to the president to be signed into law. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president would quickly sign the bill “and give our law enforcement professionals, once again, tools that they say are critical to their efforts to keep the country safe.”

Paul, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, and other privacy advocates argued the bill didn’t go far enough to keep the NSA from accessing Americans’ phone records, including the numbers, time, and duration of calls.

Paul released a fundraising television ad on Tuesday in which a voice declares that “when government illegally collected our phone records, Rand Paul took a stand, defended our rights, and stopped them.”

His delaying tactics angered other Republican senators, though, and only succeeded in making the NSA surveillance program lapse for a couple of days.

Earnest took a swipe at Paul, saying there are “members of the United States Senate who look for an opportunity to build a political advantage, to gain a political advantage, and they apparently concluded that the risk was worth it.” The bill was sold as a compromise, with President Barack Obama and Republican House leaders telling the Senate to pass it without any changes.

But hawks in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made a final attempt Tuesday to change the bill, pushing to delay the transition to the new phone record collection system and remove a requirement that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court make some surveillance orders public.

The Senate voted down each of McConnell’s amendments, another major defeat for the powerful majority leader, who was first outmaneuvered by Paul into letting the NSA spy powers lapse and then forced to accept a bill he didn’t like.

“It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens. And it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters at exactly the wrong time,” McConnell said.

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  1. Dominick Vila June 3, 2015

    Looks like Sen. Rand Paul succeeded in weakening the Patriots Act. While the changes are likely to have minimal impact on NSA operations, and our ability to have a strong national security apparatus in place to defend the homeland against terrorist attacks; it remains to be seen whether or not potential delays in data gathering have an impact on our national security. Snowden must be smiling, and probably applauding his pal Rand Paul. Hopefully we will never find out how Al Qaeda and ISIS feel about this.

  2. AlfredSonny June 3, 2015

    Are Snowden and Rand on Bin Laden’s payroll?

    1. johninPCFL June 3, 2015

      Did Bin Laden write the fourth amendment to the US Constitution?

    2. Sand_Cat June 4, 2015

      No, but you probably should be.

  3. FT66 June 3, 2015

    The question a lot of people are not asking themselves is: “why hasn’t been any attack since 9/11”? Do they think it has happened just only for the grace of god? One needs to understand that you can’t get anything you are dying for (in this case freedom), without making any sacrifice thus letting NSA operate as they see it fits.

    1. johninPCFL June 3, 2015

      I DO ask that very question, and the answer I get back is: “the US destroyed two countries to eliminate the bases of operation that the attackers originally used, killed thousands of their operatives, and halted the money they used to buy the components and bribe he officials.”

      It has nothing to do with collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of ordinary American citizens going about their normal, daily routines. I make 20-30 phone calls per day. If the average American makes one tenth that number, the NSA is sorting through a billion calls PER DAY to find the ONE that connects an operative in the US to their overseas hub. There’s a nice, new $100MM center being built to house the computers necessary to do that. Is that a wise or necessary expense?

      1. FT66 June 3, 2015

        A lot of people have no any clue at all how the entire system works. No one is listening to every call made. No one has time for that.

      2. Independent1 June 3, 2015

        Actually, there are 3.4 billion, non international, phone calls made in America a day and over 200 Billion emails whizing around the nation.

        NSA collects the megadata for at least 2 reasons (obviously, I’m not privy to every reason) : 1) to scan it with software looking for key words that may queue someone to checkout people planning plots against the nation or someone in the nation, and 2) to connect the dots when/is some law enforcement agency (FBI, CIA, Police, etc) gets some kind of tip related to a terrorist plot or some other nefarious activity (drug smuggling, sex ring, whatever).

        But with 3.4 billion phone calls and 200 Billion emails, DAILY. it’s pretty clear that no one in NSA is “going through the average American’s emails encroaching on his or her privacy). Unless of course, they mention some key word the NSA software considers terroristic or otherwise related to some nefarious activity; or they happen to be involved in some way with someone who becomes a suspect of terrorism or some other nefarious activity.

        But all this considered, it’s really only a very very tiny percentage of the NSA’s megadata that would ever get really perused in any give day – such a small percentage that it’s virtually non existent – and certainly not worth all the ranting that some Senators like Wyden have been doing about supposed privacy.

        Now that Congress has drastically curtailed the NSA’s data collection, I can only hope that that curtailment, doesn’t end up costing some American’s their lives in the not too distant future. And should another 9/11 type attack happen because the NSA wasn’t able to connect the dots and determine just who all was involved in a plot, I can only hope that these ‘privacy nuts’ are willing to stand up and take responsibility for these lives their paranoia has allowed to be lost.

        1. johninPCFL June 4, 2015

          Yes, so when I write to you that “terror suspects use keywords” that message has now been flagged by the NSA. Are you and I engaged in plotting the overthrow of the US government? (Oh, crap, more flagged words!!)

          Are you familiar with the Monty Python sketch in the holy grail where they meet up with the “knights who say ni”? Recall that they can’t say “it”, but do and end up in an endless loop. A few ‘bots sending emails anonymously back and forth with the words “terror plot” would make the brand new computer center worthless in a day’s transactions.

          BTW, email data collection is not curtailed. The program that was transferred to the phone companies was the one that tracked US phone calls between suspects’ (or out-of-country) numbers and listed them by date, connections, and duration. Since the phone companies were the ones providing the data, how was this a “transfer”? They still collect and warehouse the data, just as they did before. The only difference is that now the NSA has to ask the FISA court (that has NEVER denied a surveillance request) for a warrant to get the data.

      3. Sand_Cat June 4, 2015

        Surely you don’t consider Iraq one of those two countries? if not them, Afghanistan and ???

        1. johninPCFL June 4, 2015

          The US, in fact, destroyed Iraq. The fact that Iraq was destroyed still has absolutely nothing to do with the necessity (or lack thereof) of collecting phone records from ordinary Americans.

          1. Sand_Cat June 4, 2015

            I’m well aware that the US destroyed Iraq. I’m not sure what your point in including it was, but mine is that there is absolutely ZERO evidence that Iraq provided “the bases of operation that the attackers originally used,” or that in that war the US “killed thousands of their operatives, and halted the money they used to
            buy the components and bribe he[sic] officials.”
            I absolutely agree with your position about NSA spying, but let’s not undermine the argument with bad examples.

            You obviously feel otherwise, but I think that FT66’s original post doesn’t deserve to be dignified by a rational reply; he’s obviously a moron, at least in those statements.


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