Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

“The fault line is shifting”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm by

Earlier this week, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar appeared on The Big Picture with host Thom Hartmann to explain what he described as a “game changer” on congressional NSA reform, and to relate how members of Congress found “an alternative outlet for their outrage” about NSA spying.

Shahid explained that:

The last thing that had happened in Congress was a very meager version of the USA Freedom Act passing the House, and that could ultimately [do] more harm than good. The amendments to the House Defense Appropriations bill last week…reflected essentially a response by members of Congress who were frustrated by the White House and the Republican leadership of the House gutting the USA Freedom Act, and finding an alternative outlet for their outrage….

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The House should slow down on a flawed intelligence authorization bill

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm by

This post was originally published by Daniel Schuman from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on June 23, 2014 and is shared with permission.

On Friday, House leaders placed the Senate’s Intelligence Authorization bill on a fast track that would avoid substantive consideration by the full House, including the ability of representatives to offer amendments. The bill, introduced by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair and surveillance-enthusiast Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was passed by the Senate on June 11 and does not reflect the deep concerns many have regarding the behavior of the intelligence community. A floor vote should be deferred until the House has a full opportunity to work its will, including a rigorous debate on the legislation and the opportunity to consider amendments on the House floor.

Friday afternoon’s Whip Notice contained a notice by the Office of the Majority Leader that the Intelligence Authorization bill would be considered for “suspension” as early as Tuesday. Generally speaking, only non-controversial bills are put on suspension. For suspension bills, just 40 minutes of debate is allowed, with no opportunity for amendment unless an amendment is included in the motion to suspend. Because of these limits on debate, motions to suspend require a two-thirds affirmative vote to pass. The Intelligence Authorization bill should not be considered under suspension; the usual process likely was bypassed after House leaders grew alarmed by successful votes to put limits on the NSA through floor amendments to the Defense Appropriations Act.

What is there to hide?

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House moves to rein in NSA Internet surveillance

Friday, June 20, 2014 at 11:13 am by

A year after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed pervasive dragnet spying by the National Security Agency, Congress has finally begun to take action. Last night, the House “unexpectedly and overwhelmingly” voted in favor of a measure imposing two major limits on the NSA’s domestic dragnet.

By a wide and revealing margin, 293 Representatives came together across party lines to approve an amendment to a military spending bill that — if ultimately signed into law after agreement in the Senate – could deny funding to two particular NSA abuses.

First, the amendment aims to effectively prohibit NSA queries taking advantage of a “backdoor search loophole” (in which the NSA collects information about Americans by designating a foreigner with whom they communicate as the ”target” of their search). It would also prohibit the NSA from building security vulnerabilities into tech products made in the US, as it has for “computers, hard drives, routers, and other devices from companies such as Cisco, Dell, Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor, Samsung and Huawei.”

Members of Congress from both major parties expressed the widespread popular outrage underlying the vote. According to a joint statement by Representatives Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Lofgren (D-CA), and Massie (R-KY), “Americans have become increasingly alarmed with the breadth of unwarranted government surveillance programs.” Rep. Massie also put it more colorfully, explaining that ”The American people are sick of being spied on,” evoking the words of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who sharply criticized “this dragnet spying on millions of Americans.”

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Cantor’s loss spells trouble for NSA dragnet

Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 9:28 am by

This week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s unprecedented landslide loss to David Brat in their Republican primary contest sent a shockwave through Washington. While observers have suggested that the surprising upset reflected his stance on a variety of issues, BORDC has joined outlets including The Hill and others who observed that Brat sharply distinguished himself from Cantor on civil liberties.

For instance, Brat told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the NSA dragnet ”is a disturbing violation of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy,” and on his campaign website, he addresses several civil liberties at once:

The federal government’s abuse of our freedoms has spun out of control. Whether it is the NSA violating our 4th Amendment Rights by collecting phone records, the IRS violating our 1st Amendment rights by targeting conservative organizations, or President Obama violating our 5th Amendment rights with the indefinite detention of American citizens, our freedoms have been under attack and they must be restored.

Yesterday, the Institute for Public Accuracy quoted BORDC’s Shahid Buttar, who explained that:

For too long, politicians in Washington have blithely ignored their constitutional duties while deferring to executive agencies engaged in a frontal assault on the individual rights guaranteed by our nation’s founders. Eric Cantor’s primary loss to a relatively unknown candidate reflects, at least in part, a transpartisan grassroots rejection of the NSA spying programs that Cantor has staunchly defended.

Given his role in the Republican leadership, he was responsible in part for the behind the scenes, closed-door process that recently gutted the USA FREEDOM Act, and he has long been part of the culture of congressional corruption that continued to defer to executive agencies despite their long-standing and ongoing crimes against the American people.…

Republicans are not the only ones who should take heed: plenty of Democrats are complicit in the crimes of U.S. intelligence agencies, and will risk similar upsets until they start demonstrating independence from the executive branch they are charged to oversee, check, and balance.

 

Senate Intel Committee exhorted to move beyond USA Freedom Act

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm by

Last week, on June 5, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and legislative proposals to reform its provisions to address systemic abuses by the National Security Agency (NSA). C-SPAN recorded the hearing, and has posted both video and full text of the testimony and exchanges with Senators.

Harley Geiger from the Center for Democracy & Technology delivered especially informative testimony, explaining that:

Although questions remain and further debate is needed in many areas, a near consensus has emerged on a critical issue that has been of central focus to the American public: The government’s bulk collection of records of phone calls and emails to, from and within the United States is both intrusive and unnecessary, and Congress must act to prohibit this activity.

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BORDC’s Shahid Buttar explains bait & switch on NSA spying

Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 10:19 am by

On Thursday, May 22, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar appeared on RT America’s evening news program to explain how the bipartisan Washington establishment co-opted the USA FREEDOM Act. The bill had passed two House committees seeking to reform NSA surveillance before the House leadership gutted it with White House support in a back room deal on Wednesday.

He explained that:

We don’t yet know how broadly the NSA is spying on the American people. We only have glimpses into the tips of the iceberg…. There has been no meaningful investigation into what is actually happening. Congress has been legislating in the dark for over a decade, and…continue[s] to do so, now, even after a year of establishing that it’s been getting lied to for the last ten years…. Congress should be much more skeptical of the agencies.

Congress guts USA FREEDOM Act, deferring to NSA yet again

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 9:24 am by

Yesterday, closed door negotiations on the House Rules Committee gutted the USA FREEDOM Act, undermining the promises of the bill’s bipartisan sponsors to help end mass NSA surveillance. In the wake of the changes, rights and privacy groups abandoned the bill, noting that it has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.

Last summer, whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald revealed secret, mass, arbitrary, and unconstitutional surveillance targeting the American people.

In the year since then, Congress has done more or less nothing to change the law. It is now poised to consider what the ACLU describes as “a slight improvement” far short of “the reform bill that Americans deserve.”

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A Deep Dive into the House’s Version of Narrow NSA Reform: The New USA Freedom Act

Monday, May 19, 2014 at 9:33 am by

This post was originally published by Mark Jaycox at EFF’s Deeplinks blog on May 18, 2014 and is shared with permission.

NSA reform is finally moving in Congress. Last year, Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the USA Freedom Act, one of the first comprehensive bills to address multiple aspects of the NSA’s spying. The Senate version has languished since October, but last week the House Judiciary Committee (chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte) introduced and passed out of committee a heavily rewritten House version. As a result, two versions of the USA Freedom Act exist: the narrowed House version and the more encompassing Senate version. The movement in the House is a good indication that Congress is still engaged with NSA reform, but the House’s bill must be strengthened and clarified to ensure that it accomplishes one of its main intentions: ending mass collection.

Here’s how the House version of the USA Freedom Act compares to the Senate’s version, what the new House version of the USA Freedom Act does, and what it sorely lacks.

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CIA stonewalling transparency on torture even after Senate vote

Thursday, May 15, 2014 at 8:55 am by

The nation is still waiting to hear from the Obama administration regarding its declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s practice of torture under the Bush administration. On April 3, the committee voted 11-3 to declassify a four hundred page summary of its much larger report of over six thousand pages.

The committee gave the Obama administration the ability to redact whatever it deems harmful to national security. The administration, however, has allowed the CIA to take the lead on the redaction process, causing concern among many observers that the CIA may be focused more on protecting its reputation than national security.

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House committees take first step to reform NSA

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:36 am by

Last week, the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees approved a bill that would begin the process of restoring constitutional limits to dragnet government surveillance. While a praiseworthy step in the right direction, the progress to date remains both entirely too slow, and deferential to the intelligence agencies.

Congress should immediately pass the USA FREEDOM Act, and then get back to work to pass the further restrictions on NSA spying necessary to render it compliant with the First and Fourth amendments.

A limited reform package

Several observers have noted various ways in which the bill passed out of the committees last week leaves a great deal to be desired. The House committees watered down the bill’s provisions before approving it, undermining its ability to meaningfully restrain government spying.

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