Ron Wyden Puts Hold On FISA Amendments Act; Wants Answers To How Many Americans Have Been Spied On

from the good-for-him dept

Last week, we noted that as everyone was focused on the debt ceiling, some in the Senate Intelligence Committee saw it as an opportunity to rush through an extension for the FISA Amendment Act, which was originally passed to "legalize" the government's warrantless wiretapping program (already ongoing) with retroactive immunity. Of course, when that was passed, it was made clear that the intent was solely to use it to conduct surveillance on people outside of the US. However, as Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have made clear, intelligence officials have been using a very questionable "hybrid theory" to use the FAA and the Patriot Act to conduct widespread surveillance of Americans, most likely in the form of collecting tons of geolocation data from mobile phone operators.

There was no reason to approve the FAA extension last week, since it doesn't expire until next year. Even worse, the vote for the whole thing was in a "closed" session, not for classified reasons, since votes come out eventually, but basically to avoid public scrutiny. Wyden and Udall introduced an amendment requiring intelligence officials to explain the "problems" associated with secret interpretations of such laws that disagree with how most (including those in Congress) believe the law is intended for use. Since the vote was closed, there was no official notice on how it turned out, though we'd heard rumors that it was approved.

Senator Wyden has now come out and said that it was, in fact, approved, and his and Udall's Amendment was voted down 7-8. Because of this, Wyden is putting a hold on the FISA Amendments Act extension, and is pushing for a simple answer to the question that multiple intelligence officials said "is not reasonably possible" to answer: how many Americans are being spied under this Act, which was clearly intended to cover surveillance of foreigners.
As most of my colleagues remember, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008 in an effort to give the government new authorities to conduct surveillance of foreigners outside the United States. The bill contained an expiration date of December 2012, and the purpose of this expiration date was to force members of Congress to come back in a few years and examine whether these new authorities had been interpreted and implemented as intended.

I believe that Congress has not yet adequately examined this issue, and that there are important questions that need to be answered before the FISA Amendments Act is given a long-term extension.

The central section of the FISA Amendments Act, the part that is now section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act itself, specifically stated that it was intended to address foreigners outside the United States, and it even required the Attorney General to develop procedures designed to make sure that any individuals targeted with this new authority are believed to be outside the United States. So one of the central questions that Congress needs to ask is, are these procedures working as intended? Are they keeping the communications of law-abiding Americans from being swept up under this authority that was designed to apply to foreigners?
Wyden also notes that he has no intention of accepting the "not reasonably possible" language from the feds in response to his questions about how many Americans were spied on.

Hopefully this puts more pressure on the federal government to say how they've (mis)interpreted the law to collect vast aggregate data on Americans, abusing a law that was clearly designed for the sake of monitoring foreign communications.
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Filed Under: fisa, geolocation, james clapper, mark udall, patriot act, privacy, ron wyden, secrecy, senate


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2011 @ 8:43pm

    I ahve to wonder if Wyden's biggest campaign contribution comes from Rio Tinto Alcan, because this guy is a tin hatter at it's best. Every rock has a conspiracy hiding under it in his world.

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