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Hullabaloo


Friday, June 28, 2013

 
Uh oh, here come 26 more Insider Threats 

by digby

Yes, they are all traitors who fail to understand just how important it is that we be protected from the boogeyman by any means necessary:
A bipartisan group of 26 US senators has written to intelligence chiefs to complain that the administration is relying on a “secret body of law” to collect massive amounts of data on US citizens.

The senators accuse officials of making misleading statements and demand that the director of national intelligence James Clapper answer a series of specific questions on the scale of domestic surveillance as well as the legal justification for it.

In their strongly-worded letter to Clapper, the senators said they believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian.

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the Patriot Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” they say.

“This and misleading statements by intelligence officials have prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly.”
[...]
In a press statement, the group of senators added: “The recent public disclosures of secret government surveillance programs have exposed how secret interpretations of the USA Patriot Act have allowed for the bulk collection of massive amounts of data on the communications of ordinary Americans with no connection to wrongdoing.”

“Reliance on secret law to conduct domestic surveillance activities raises serious civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate,” they added.
[...]
The senators also expressed their concern that the program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the Patriot Act could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata.

“The Patriot Act’s ‘business records’ authority can be used to give the government access to private financial, medical, consumer and firearm sales records, among others,” said a press statement.

In addition to raising concerns about the law’s scope, the senators noted that keeping the official interpretation of the law secret and the instances of misleading public statements from executive branch officials prevented the American people from having an informed public debate about national security and domestic surveillance.

Here's the letter:

The Honorable James R. Clapper
Director of National Intelligence
Washington, D.C. 2051 1

Dear Director Clapper:

Earlier this month, the executive branch acknowledged for the first time that the "business
records" provision of the USA PATRIOT Act has been secretly reinterpreted to allow the
government to collect the private records of large numbers of ordinary Americans. We agree that it is regrettable that this fact was first revealed through an unauthorized disclosure rather than an official acknowledgment by the administration, but we appreciate the comments that the President has made welcoming debate on this topic.

In our view, the bulk collection and aggregation of Americans' phone records has a significant impact on Americans' privacy that exceeds the issues considered by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Maryland. That decision was based on the technology of the rotary--dial era and did not address the type of ongoing, broad surveillance of phone records that the government is now conducting. These records can reveal personal relationships, family medical issues, political and religious affiliations, and a variety of other private personal information. This is particularly true if these records are collected in a manner that includes cell phone locational data, effectively turning Americans' cell phones into tracking devices. We are concerned that officials have told the press that the collection of this location data is currently authorized.

Furthermore, we are troubled by the possibility of this bulk collection authority being applied to other categories of records. The PATRIOT Act's business records authority is very broad in its scope. It can be used to collect information on credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information, and a range of other sensitive subjects. And the bulk collection authority could potentially be used to supersede bans on maintaining gun owner databases, or laws protecting the privacy of medical records, financial records, and records of book and movie purchases. These other types of bulk collection could clearly have a significant impact on Americans' privacy and liberties as well.

Senior officials have noted that there are rules in place governing which government personnel are allowed to review the bulk phone records data and when. Rules of this sort, if they are effectively enforced, can mitigate the privacy impact of this large-scale data collection, but they do not erase it entirely. Furthermore, over its history the intelligence community has sometimes failed to keep sensitive information secure from those who would misuse it, and even if these rules are well-intentioned they will not eliminate all opportunities for abuse.

It has been suggested that the privacy impact of particular methods of domestic surveillance should be weighed against the degree to which the surveillance enhances our national security. With this in mind, we are interested in hearing more details about why you believe that the bulk phone records collection program provides any unique value. We have now heard about a few cases in which these bulk phone records provided some information that was relevant to investigators, but we would like a full explanation of whether or not the records that were actually useful could have been obtained directly from the appropriate phone companies in an equally expeditious manner using either a regular court order or an emergency authorization.

Finally, we are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law. Statements from senior officials that the PATRIOT Act authority is "analogous to a grand jury subpoena" and that the NSA "[doesn't] hold data on US citizens" had the effect of misleading the public about how the law was being interpreted and implemented. This prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly. The debate that the President has now welcomed is an important first step toward restoring that trust.

To ensure that an informed discussion on PATRIOT Act authorities can take place, we ask that you direct the Intelligence Community to provide unclassified answers to the following questions:

- How long has the NSA used PATRIOT Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of
Americans' records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in
2006?

- Has the NSA used USA PATRIOT Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other
types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records'?

- Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans' cell--site location data in bulk'?

- Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of
the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.

- Please identify any specific examples of instances in which intelligence gained by
reviewing phone records obtained through Section 215 bulk collection proved useful in
thwarting a particular terrorist plot.

- Please provide specific examples of instances in which useful intelligence was gained by
reviewing phone records that could not have been obtained without the bulk collection
authority, if such examples exist.

- Please describe the employment status of all persons with conceivable access to this data, including IT professionals, and detail whether they are federal employees, civilian or
military, or contractors.

Thank you your attention to this important matter. We look forward to further discussion in
the weeks ahead.

Sincerely,

Ron Wyden (D-Or), Mark Udall (D-Co), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Mark Kirk (R-Il), Dick Durbin (D-Il), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mt), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dean Heller (R- Nev),Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Patty Murray (D-Wash), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Max Baucus (D-Mont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

That's quite a group of Senators from all over the country and every ideology within the Democratic Party. It includes 4 Republicans, (none of whom answer to the name Rand Paul, you'll notice.) It would seem they're getting tired of being lied to.

Perhaps you don't like the way these issues came to light. But they would not have come to light any other way. Wyden and Udall have been trying to get this out for years but were hampered by all this classified nonsense. And all the sneaky Catch 22s the government set up to prevent anyone from being able to talk about it meant that it took a whistleblower going to the press to get it out there.

You can think Snowden is a narcissist and Greenwald and Gellman are jackasses or communists or anything else but it doesn't alter the fact that none of this would be the subject of the "open debate" everyone claims they are dying to have if it hadn't been for these leaks --- leaks which 26 US Senators now believe have raised serious questions about the government's surveillance programs.

I'm sorry that makes people uncomfortable.  But when the government is intent upon governing in secret even when it doesn't have to, what choice do we have?

.