We’ve been noting for years: when Senator Ron Wyden says that (1) there’s a secret interpretation of a law that is at odds with the public’s understanding of it, or (2) that government officials are lying, you should pay attention.
The US government has made numerous attempts to obtain source code from tech companies in an effort to find security flaws that could be used for surveillance or investigations.
The government has demanded source code in civil cases filed under seal but also by seeking clandestine rulings authorized under the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a person with direct knowledge of these demands told ZDNet. We’re not naming the person as they relayed information that is likely classified.
With these hearings held in secret and away from the public gaze, the person said that the tech companies hit by these demands are losing “most of the time.”
That whole thing about the FBI not surveilling people based solely on First Amendment activity? The thing that’s been in all the (FISA) papers (and agency policies)? Yeah, the FBI hasn’t heard of it either.
The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.
Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.
“Unduly involved” is right. First of all, a majority of what was monitored was First Amendment activity, something no federal intelligence or investigative agency is supposed to be doing. Certainly, there can be law enforcement monitoring of protests as they occur, but there’s no provision in the law that allows the FBI to monitor people solely because of their activism.
Unless, of course, these activists are declared “extremists.” Then all bets (and Constitutional protections) are off.
“Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the FBI document states.
“Extremists” are often mentioned in the same breath as “domestic terrorists,” so with a little bit of rebranding, the FBI is now able to surveill people solely for their First Amendment-protected activities. That’s handy and not totally unexpected, given the agency’s long history of eyeballing activists who run contrary to its view on How Things Should Be. At one point, it was uppity blacks and encroaching homosexuals. Now, it’s people who don’t want an oil pipeline running through their neighborhoods.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Monday used last week’s appellate court ruling that NSA bulk collection of call records is illegal to bash his Republican counterpart for wanting to keep it going through 2020.
“My friend, the Majority Leader, keeps talking about extending the program for five and a half years,” Reid said from the floor of the Senate, referencing Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “How can you reauthorize something that’s illegal?” Reid asked. “You can’t. You shouldn’t.”
“Extending an illegal program for five and a half years? That is not sensible,” he said. “What should happen is that we should move forward and do something that is needed here — and that is, do it all over again.”
On Sunday at a speech in Boston, McConnell called the bulk phone call metadata collection program “an important tool to prevent the next terrorist attack,” and said that the U.S. “is better off with an extension of the Patriot Act than not.” Three provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire on June 1, including one that the NSA has claimed justifies the program.
Reid offered an alternative Monday, saying that McConnell should seek to advance the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the bulk collection of metadata from domestic phone companies. He pointed out that a version of the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in April by a 25 – 2 vote, and predicted that the legislation would be advanced by a full House vote this week.
Reid also painted the bill as an escape hatch for McConnell — and said he would back a revolt that’s being openly planned, should the Senate Majority Leader attempt to move for a clean extension of the Patriot Act. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have already threatened filibusters.
“This is the only bipartisan, bicameral solution we have today that will end the illegal bulk collection and reform and reauthorize key provisions of FISA,” Reid said.
“Otherwise … I’m not the only one, Mr. President,” he added. “I’m told, walking over here, that the junior senator from Kentucky is not going to let an extension … take place. So why don’t we just go ahead and get it done now.”
The current practices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court are effective and don’t need to be changed, according to former FBI director Robert Mueller.
“Yes, it’s worthwhile. Metadata of telephone companies is terribly helpful,” Mueller said, speaking Tuesday morning at an American Bar Association breakfast held at the the University Club in Washington, D.C.
Mueller cited the example of the Boston Marathon bombing as evidence that bulk collection is important, saying that analysis of metadata was able to rule out potential associates of the Tsarnaev brothers. “They had additional IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices],” Mueller said, adding that bulk collection helped prevent a second attack.
Metadata collection, he said, “is tremendously helpful in identifying contacts.”
The FISA court’s bulk metadata collection program has come under intense scrutiny in light of disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Congress now has until the end of May to decide whether to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the bulk collection program.
Legislators are working on the language for a reauthorization bill, according to Mueller. “They’re tweaking it, trying to accommodate additional concerns, like privacy,” he said.
Mueller also defended current procedures, which have been criticized for not allowing those subject to surveillance to argue in front of the FISA court. “I’m not sure you need to change what’s been in effect,” he said.
Mueller also didn’t mince words when asked about a possible plea deal for Snowden.
“He’s indicted,” Mueller said of Snowden. “He should come back and face the music.”