Today is the 12 anniversary of the PATRIOT Act. This unbelievably broad surveillance law has been renewed twice since its 2001 inception with almost no protest from Congress. A little over two years ago, Congress passed a four-year extension of provisions set to expire on June 1, 2015. Since Edward Snowden leaked information, people—including those in a number of foreign countries—are discovering how the surveillance superstructure works and how it destroys civil liberties.
As it now stands, the government has the authority to spy on people inside the United States without any knowledge of wrongdoing.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no indication that the “thing” pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is in direct opposition to the U.S. Constitution’s protection against search and seizure requiring the government to show probable cause before infringing on a person’s privacy.
Section 206 of the Patriot Act, aka “roving John Doe wiretap” provision, gives government permission to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that fail to identify either the person or the facility to be tapped. Again, this provision violates protection against search and seizure that requires the government to be specific about what it wants to search or seize.
Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, or the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Granted only in secret courts, this authorization violates the limits of government surveillance within the nation’s borders.
Another part of the Patriot Act is the use of national security letters (NSLs) that permit the government to obtain the communication, financial, and credit records of anyone deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation even if that person is not suspected of unlawful behavior. Tens of thousands of these letters issued every year are used to collect information on people two and three times removed from a terrorism suspect. Nondisclosure requirements in NSLs also prevent a court from determining whether the gag is necessary to protect national security.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol today and in other U.S. cities to protest the NSA Internet data gathering program. Organized by Stop Watching Us, the group wants changes in the government spying on innocent people. The organization has also released a video featuring Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Phil Donahue, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., David Segal of Demand Progress, and others.
At least one author of the original 2001 Patriot Act has decided enough is enough—especially after the report that NSA may be surveilling people in 35 countries, including the cell phone of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) plans to introduce legislation next week to curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers. He hopes to have 60 House co-sponsors for the bill, called the USA Freedom Act. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans to introduce companion legislation at the same time. Sensenbrenner claims that Congress never authorized such massive data collection on people who have no record of wrongdoing.
The proposed legislation would tighten record gathering only on U.S. phone calls, however, making Merkel still at risk. In addition, it would create a special advocate’s office to argue stronger privacy protections before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court established by Congress, and appeal its decisions. According to current law, the court hears only arguments in favor of surveillance. If the bill passes, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would have subpoena power to investigate privacy and national security issues. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook would be able to reveal more statistics about the information they must turn over to the government.
Leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are expected to oppose the bill. In the past they have claimed that all the collection is vital to stopping terrorist attacks. “I will do everything I can to prevent this [phone data] program from being canceled,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said.
The argument that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks is bogus. The original wording was that NSA’s intelligence had “contributed to the understanding of terrorism activities.” No thwarting. NSA refuses to release records to prove any of their claims. Officials have released information about only one of these cases: a San Diego man sent $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has long argued that the federal government is abusing its surveillance and claimed that NSA could have gotten a court order to get phone records for the convicted San Diego man.
Members of Congress received the complete list from NASA about the over 50 cases, but it remains classified. After reading the list, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) still questions the agency’s figures. He said, “That’s plainly wrong …. These weren’t all plots and they weren’t all thwarted.” Yet GOP Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (GA), Brad Wenstrup (OH), Joe Heck (NV), Mike Rogers (MI), and James Lankford (OK) continue to support NSA’s false reporting. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) followed their lead.
NSA claimed that their surveillance helped thwart a plot to attack a Danish newspaper, but an examination of the event concluded that a tip from British intelligence led authorities to the perpetrator. NSA claimed that its surveillance led to a supposed plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange in 2010, but no one was charged in relationship to that attack.
My partner thinks that the surveillance will make us safer, but, as she pointed out, she was taught to hide under her desk in grade school if there was danger of an atomic bomb. She grew up being taught to be afraid, the same tactic that conservatives use in contemporary times.
I told her about a senior National Security Council staffer who tweeted anti-admininstration messages for over two years before he could be found. Jofi Joseph, 40, a key member of the White House team negotiating on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, unleashed a barrage of over 2,000 caustic tweets about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top NSC officials, especially Ben Rhodes, who he accused of dodging questions about Benghazi. The fired man’s wife, Carolyn Leddy, is on the Republican side of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It took two years to find the source of the tweets.
NSA spends billions of dollars to discover very little and sometimes destroy people’s lives as it did to Brandon Mayfield, a Portland (OR) lawyer. Members of the agency secretly broke into his house, tapped his phone, and accused him of being part of bombing in the 2004 Madrid train bombing on the basis of a faxed fingerprint and his children’s Spanish lessons on his computer. That plus the fact that he had become a Muslim. They finally admitted that he had nothing to do with the act of terror.
This article sounds like science fiction, but it has fact for support. Within the next few years, household appliances can be used to spy on everyone. Advertisers propose putting cameras into television to get reactions to TV ads or what shows make people fall asleep. Last year Computer Security firm ReVuln proved that it could hack Samsung’s newest televisions to access users’ settings, install malware on the TVs and any connected devices, and harvest all personal data stored on the machine as well as switching on the camera embedded in the TV and watch viewers watching the set. Google and Verizon are two companies developing cable boxes with built-in video cameras and motion sensors.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus believes that such appliances as dishwashers, clothes dryers, toasters, clock radios, and remote controls will soon gather intelligence. Even now these appliances connect to the Internet. Criminals will also find this information useful as well as technology that allows spies to monitor lights and heating/AC thermostats. Home security systems wirelessly connected to phones and tablets can easily be hacked, allowing burglars to keep tabs on homes.
Last year, the U.S. military disclosed an app, PlaceRaider, that uses a smartphone’s camera, geo-location data, and accelerometer to create a 3D map of the phone’s surroundings. Tablets and computers have all the same tools as smartphones and more. They hold all a person’s secrets, making these available to anyone who knows the technology.
A year ago White Hat hacker Barnaby Jack proved he could kill a diabetic person from 300 feet away by ordering an insulin pump to deliver fatal doses of insulin; this summer he said he could hack pacemakers and implanted defibrillators.
NSA doesn’t want people to have safeguards because they can also be blocked by these. The nation needs to stop wasting taxpayer money and follow the constitution, and Congress needs to stop making unconstitutional laws after they have terrified people in the United States.