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Amendment to curtail NSA’s wholesale surveillance of Americans defeated in the House!

I saw a bumper sticker today, in Livermore, California, on a car with Texas license plates. The sticker said: “When The People lead, the leaders will follow.” I am beginning to believe that leadership by The People is what it will take.

In case there was EVER any doubt about where Congress’s “head is at” :-) reports:

After furious lobbying by the Obama administration and Republican leaders, the House of Representatives on Wednesday narrowly defeated an amendment that would have curtailed the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of U.S. phone calling records revealed recently by Edward Snowden.

But the breadth of support in both parties for the amendment — which lost, 217 to 205 — underscored the extent of public disquiet with the notion that the NSA is collecting information on nearly every phone call made by nearly every American. Backers of the measure were the ultimate in strange bedfellows, an oil-and-water mixture of deeply conservative tea party Republicans and some of the chamber’s most liberal Democrats.

A majority of Democrats bucked President Obama and voted in favor of the amendment. A change of just six votes would have passed the measure.

Yes, you read that right! I know it is hard to believe, but BIPARTISAN support for the wholesale domestic surveillance of Americans is what defeated the amendment, and BIPARTISAN opposition to NSA domestic spying was defeated! I think that the “translation” is that the conflict is between BOTH major political parties and the American people, that is, between Congress and The People that it is supposed to represent. If you talk to me about “Democrats this” or “Republicans that” it just demonstrates that you haven’t been paying attention! :-) continues:

“The government has gone too far in the name of national security,” said Ted Poe (R-Texas).

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) ridiculed the notion that the records of every American could each meet the standard, in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, allowing the government to obtain business records “relevant to an investigation.”

Offered by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the amendment would have required the government to identify a person under investigation before it is able to collect records of calls made to or from that person. Currently, the government obtains orders from a secret intelligence court requiring telecommunications providers to turn over to the NSA calling records on nearly every American.

Officials say they need all the records to be able to identify U.S. residents unknown to the intelligence community who may be working with foreign terrorists.

I received a letter from one of California’s senators, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which I believe demonstrates the WIDTH of the gulf between Congress and The People. She sought to calm my concerns about the unprecedented BREADTH of domestic surveillance by the NSA. I quote from her letter:

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that I believe the oversight we have conducted is strong and effective and I am doing my level best to get more information declassified. Please know that it is equally frustrating to me, as it is to you, that I cannot provide more detail on the value these programs provide and the strict limitations placed on how this information is used. I take serious my responsibility to make sure intelligence programs are effective, but I work equally hard to ensure that intelligence activities strictly comply with the Constitution and our laws and protect Americans’ privacy rights.

These surveillance programs have proven to be very effective in identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with terrorist plots, and in allowing the Intelligence Community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to prevent numerous terrorist attacks. More information on this should be forthcoming.

After providing a few examples of actual cases in which the surveillance was helpful, Senator Feinstein says:

Not only has Congress been briefed on these programs, but laws passed and enacted since 9/11 specifically authorize them. The surveillance programs are authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which itself was enacted by Congress in 1978 to establish the legal structure to carry out these programs, but also to prevent government abuses, such as surveillance of Americans without approval from the federal courts. The Act authorizes the government to gather communications and other information for foreign intelligence purposes. It also establishes privacy protections, oversight mechanisms (including court review), and other restrictions to protect privacy rights of Americans.

The laws that have established and reauthorized these programs since 9/11 have passed by mostly overwhelming margins. For example, the phone call business record program was reauthorized most recently on May 26, 2011 by a vote of 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House. The internet communications program was reauthorized most recently on December 30, 2012 by a vote of 73-22 in the Senate and 301-118 in the House.

Well, I do not think that Americans are as concerned with whether the domestic spying by the NSA is LEGAL under current law (perhaps we SHOULD be), as they are with the constitutionality of the laws, themselves, something that is determined ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court, as part of the “separation of powers.” Americans are no doubt ALSO concerned with whether the domestic spying is RIGHT.

As for the secret FISA court, I think that the whole concept would be pretty alien to the framers of the U.S. Constitution. I may need to research more of what Edward Snowden has published, but so far, the press has not revealed anything that I did not already know about NSA domestic spying (other than it was Verizon, rather than AT&T, this time), particularly after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) lawsuit against AT&T (Hepting v. AT&T)  which was dismissed in June of 2009. The suit arose concerning a room in the (once-SBC) building on Folsom Street in San Francisco, where the wholesale copying of telecommunications and the transmission of the data to the NSA occurred. I became aware of the case years after I was asked by my employer at the time, Sun Microsystems, to inventory Sun equipment in what turned out to be the NSA splitter room. After a number of my unsuccessful tries, my management mysteriously quit asking me for the inventory data. :-) EFF summarizes:

In June of 2009, a federal judge dismissed Hepting and dozens of other lawsuits against telecoms, ruling that the companies had immunity from liability under the controversial FISA Amendments Act (FISAAA), which was enacted in response to our court victories in Hepting. Signed by President Bush in 2008, the FISAAA allows the Attorney General to require the dismissal of the lawsuits over the telecoms’ participation in the warrantless surveillance program if the government secretly certifies to the court that the surveillance did not occur, was legal, or was authorized by the president — certification that was filed in September of 2008.

There are many ways to lose our liberties. The quickest way is to simply give them up, ourselves. Senator Feinstein has long been an advocate of gun control (for OTHERS), while (formerly, and perhaps still) possessing a “concealed carry” permit for herself. Congress seeks to assure us that they know what is best for us and that they are looking out for our best interests in a dangerous world.

The world can be made less dangerous, but it can never be made safe.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

-Bill at

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