Sunset Section 215

September 26, 2019

We have another chance to end this intrusive surveillance!

I got an e-mail from FreePress.net’ action team, calling on supporters to contact our Congressional representatives in yet another attempt to shut down the so-called PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 surveillance authorization.  Here is what they have to say about this bill, passed in panic after Sept. 11, 2001.

Since 2001, a critical section of the Patriot Act has allowed the government to collect an astonishing amount of sensitive data about the daily lives of people who live in the United States. And now Congress is debating whether to reauthorize Section 215 and cement the Trump administration’s ability to spy on people without a warrant.

We can’t let this happen. Tell your member of Congress to shut down Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

As Edward Snowden revealed, Section 215 allows the government to collect incredibly sensitive information like our phone calls, location data, medical records and financial transactions. Everyone’s personal data can get swept up in Section 215. But we’re not all being surveilled equally.

Mass surveillance is racist in its impact. Instead of targeting the increasing threat of violent white supremacy, the NSA and other federal agencies likely use Section 215 to collect bulk data on Muslim communities, Black political activists and immigrants of color — all without needing to use a warrant or show probable cause.

And right now Congress might buckle to Trump’s demand to make this invasive surveillance authority permanent.

NOTE: this is worse than ever; past reauthorizations were time-limited, which is why we have another chance to sunset this. The current occupant of the people’s White House wants to further his racist agenda by making this extreme government surveillance permanent.

More from FreePressAction:

Leaks in the last month have revealed that the FBI lied about the extent of its tracking of Black activists and was covering up a program called IRON FIST that it created to target and infiltrate racial-justice groups.1 And more recently, news broke that the FBI is treating groups that are protesting the administration’s abhorrent immigration policies at the U.S. border as “extremist organizations.”2 Congress shouldn’t reauthorize these vast spying powers while the FBI is surveilling activists and trying to disrupt the fight for racial justice.

These developments are alarming: We can’t allow government agencies to use sweeping surveillance authorities to go after anyone who opposes the Trump administration’s inhumane policies.

Tell your member of Congress to shut down Section 215 of the Patriot Act for good.

One of GetFISARight’s last conference calls was watching Congress reauthorize Section 215 back in, I believe, 2013 or 2015. Let’s do better this time!

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Ten Years Later: Get FISA Right and the Future of Civil Liberties Activism

July 4, 2018

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We advocate rejecting the politics of fear, revisit the flawed FISA Amendments law and Patriot Act, and safeguarding the people’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Get FISA Right

 

Please, Senator Obama, Say NO to Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right launched on June 26, 2008, with posts by Mardi on my.barackobama.com and Mike Stark on Open Left.  The media hook of Obama supporters using his own social network to pressure him with an open letter got a lot of coverage, and by July 2, we were the biggest group on MyBO.   On July 3, Obama responded to our open letter on MyBO  – an event that’s often seen as a watershed for social network activism in the US.*

Alas, it wasn’t enough.  Obama declined to support the filibuster by Senators Feingold and Dodd.   On July 9 2008 Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act – giving the government virtually unrestricted access to collect Americans’ international communications, and granting retroactive immunity to telecoms that had cooperated in illegal Bush-era spying.

We kept organizing after the vote, running crowdfunded pro-civil liberties TV ads during the Republican National Convention that August and in DC in January 2009 for Obama’s inauguration. In early 2009 we allied with DREAM Activists and undocumented youth, the Stonewall 2.0 LGBTQ movement, and peace activists in the Ideas for Change competition.  Since then, as newer groups like Restore the Fourth and Fight for the Future have taken the lead, we’ve come back to life from time to time – most recently, to let people know about Get FISA Right alum Shahid Buttar’s Congressional campaign.

Our tenth anniversary’s a good opportunity to check in, reflect on the past and what we can learn, and talk about what next.

So whether or not you were part of it back in the day, we’d love to hear your memories of Get FISA Right – and thoughts about the future of civil liberties activism.

Here’s a few thoughts to kick things off …

The view from 2018

As we predicted in 2008 (and even after the Snowden revelations highlighted the intelligence agencies’ abuse of their power), Congress has repeatedly expanded the scope of warrantless wiretapping – and failed to introduce any meaningful safeguards.  With the Trump Administration becoming increasingly authoritarian, and Democratic leadership complicit, risks that seemed abstract or hypothetical to many people a decade ago are overwhelmingly real.

And social networks have become a much more challenging place for activism since the glory days of Get FISA Right, Un Millón de Voces contra las FARC, and Join the Impact in 2008:

And so on.  It’s almost like people with power are scared of what might happen when people organize online and are doing their best to stop it.

A large growd up people with signs on the steps of an official-looking building

Restore the Fourth protest in New York, 2013

Still, as Restore the Fourth reminded everybody in 2013 – and hundreds of thousands of people around the country are once again showing this week at ICE facilities as part of the week of action – grassroots energy remains out there — and people continue to connect on social networks. And as grim as the overall situation is, there’s also been substantial progress in a lot of areas. For example:

  • Groups like Black Lives Matter, the Water Protectors, and StopLAPDSpying – along with intersectionally-focused leadership in civil liberties coalitions and academia – are increasingly highlighting the relationship of government surveillance to the prison-industrial complex, immigration, racism, and environmental justice.
  • Momentum has shifted against Facebook and Twitter, and new decentralized platforms like Mastodon may prove to be better environments for civil liberties activists
  • Explicitly anti-oppressive new projects like Torn Apart / Separados and Douglass, and new tools for activism like Signal, Loomio, SecureDrop, better.place, and Pursuance, are still at a relatively early stage but point the way to new possibilities

Learning from the past – and looking forward

As Get FISA Right heads into its second decade, there’s still a big potential role for grassroots social network activism in the fight for civil liberties – and for justice.   There’s a lot to learn from our experiences.  What worked?  What didn’t?   How would we adapt things to today’s, and tomorrow’s environment?

So please share your perspectives – in the comments here, on the Get FISA Right wiki, on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Mastodon, and Diaspora, or wherever else works.  We’ll collect the responses and follow up with a post in a week or two.  In the meantime,  help us get the word out by sharing, liking, tweeting, emailing, and otherwise letting people know.

Thanks to everybody who’s been involved with and supported Get FISA Right and the fight for civil liberties over the last decade.  Looking forward to the next ten years!

doj_stop_spying

 

* The hundreds of the replies to Obama in the MyBO conversation are gone, but here’s the copy of Obama’s response the campaign cross-posted to the Huffington Post.   The Get FISA Right wiki has more of the context, including A brief historyCoverage, and  This time, *we’re* writing the history.


Shahid Buttar is running for Congress!

February 24, 2018

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“I’m running for Congress because I can’t watch America’s constitutional crisis from the sidelines. San Francisco’s representative in Washington talks about resistance, but having been in the House for 30 years, she has become a pillar of the Washington establishment. Even worse, she has repeatedly caved under this maniacal President and compromised our rights….  Watching our representative in San Francisco hand expanded domestic surveillance powers to the Trump administration in January 2018 was too much for me to bear.”

— Shahid Buttar in A Fresh Voice for San Francisco

Shahid’s been on the front lines of the fight against warrantless surveillance since even before Get FISA Right started in 2008.  He worked very closely with us during his years at Bill of Rights Defense Committee – and with other grassroots civil liberties organizations like Restore the Fourth.  More recently, he’s been at EFF and on the board of Center for Media Justice.   Now, he’s taking things to the next level and running for Congress in San Francisco … for the seat currently held by Nancy Pelosi.

Every Member of Congress had the opportunity to decide whether to protect Americans’ privacy, and shield vulnerable communities from unconstitutional targeting, or to leave broad spying authority in Trump’s—and Jeff Sessions’—hands.

Is Your Democratic MoC More Conservative Than Ted Cruz on Surveillance?, Indivisible

A surprising number of Republicans opposed a straightforward FISA reauthorization bill this year – enough that there was a chance to get some meaningful reforms.  Instead, Pelosi and dozens of other Democrats voted to expand the NSA’s warrantless surveillance powers.  Talk about caving and compromising our rights …

Of course, Shahid’s strong position on surveillance is only part of his platform;  ShahidForChange.us also highlights issues like reducing government and corporate corruption, reducing military spending to save social services, and ending federal prohibition of cannabis.  Still, all the polls show that the majority of Americans oppose warrantless wiretapping — and my guess is that the percentage is even higher in San Francisco.  So it’s great to see a pro-civil liberties candidate making it a big part of their platform.

A few years ago on one of the Get FISA Right phone calls we were lamenting how politicians continue to shrug their shoulders at the NSA’s ongoing pattern of misleading Congress and avoiding any kind of oversight, and I remember saying “things won’t change until the civil liberties vote makes the difference in elections.”  Now’s as good a time as any to start!

To find out more, check out Shahid’s candidate statement on Boing Boing and his web site ShahidForChange.us


Restore the 4th says, Call now! Sunset 702!

December 20, 2017

Tweet at your Congressmember today to prevent a sneak vote for mass surveillance!

In the House, surveillance hawks are trying to ram through a bill extending mass surveillance, without time for debate or amendment.

If we can delay or defeat this vote, every day will make a huge difference in this fight. Section 702—the legal authority the NSA relies on to engage in this mass surveillance—theoretically expires in 12 days; the closer we get to that deadline, the more leverage we have to pass real reforms.

The vote on this is likely to happen today, so there’s no time to make phone calls or send emails. Please tweet at your members of Congress using www.decidethefuture.org and urge them to vote NO on H. R. 4478.

Many thanks to Restore the Fourth for providing this timely notice to their subscribers, and apologies for reposting it here, but we are a shoestring volunteer group. We encourage our readers to get involved with Restore the 4th , which works to protect us from overreaching, unconstitutional mass government surveillance.


USA Liberty Act Would Compromise Privacy

November 10, 2017

As Congress debates the “USA Liberty Act”, it is important to consider the implications for warrantless, back-door searches. The following information comes from the Brennan Center (https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/congress-cant-compromise-privacy); the entire article is worth reading to fully understand the importance of this issue and Section 702.

[T]he problem with the USA Liberty Act’s solution is not simply that it does not go far enough. In two key respects, it actually represents a step backward.

First, it would put Congress’s stamp of approval on backdoor searches. As it stands, Section 702 does not expressly authorize agencies to search for Americans’ communications. Indeed, the practice seems inconsistent with the law’s prohibition on targeting Americans, not to mention its requirement that the government minimize the retention and use of Americans’ communications. By codifying backdoor searches for foreign intelligence purposes, the USA Liberty Act would make the law worse, even if it improved on the government’s actual practice.

Even more worrisome, the USA Liberty approach would introduce a new and dangerous principle into the law: the notion that Americans have lesser rights when the government is acting with a “foreign intelligence” purpose. Currently, if the government wants to target an American directly for surveillance, it must obtain a warrant regardless of its motive. In criminal cases, the government typically obtains the warrant from a magistrate judge, while in foreign intelligence investigations, it applies to a special court known as the FISA Court. In both cases, however, the government must show probable cause of illicit activity.

There is no principled basis for lowering the standard of protection in foreign intelligence cases and allowing the government to access through the back door what it could not obtain through the front.


Permanent mass surveillance, “LIBERTY”, or real reform? FISA 702 reauthorization update

October 8, 2017

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With only a few months left before the deadline to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the battle lines are starting to shape up.   FISA provides the legal basis for warrantless surveillance, and when it was originally passed over strenuous objections from civil libertarians in 2008, it included a “sunset clause”.   After being extended once in the lame-duck session in late 2012, Section 702 will sunset if it’s not reauthorized again by the end of the year.

After a year of high-profile coverage of the pitfalls of mass surveillance, and a lot of criticism of intelligence agency abuse and incompetence across party lines, you’d think that there would be bipartisan interest in getting some meaningful reforms.  So far, though, the two options on the table are “bad” and “worse”:

Sigh.  EFF’s Pull the Plug on Internet Spying Programs offers an easy way to contact your Congresspeople.  And, if you’re calling for some other reason, take a few minutes to ask them to oppose USA LIBERTY, reauthorization without change, and making 702 permanent.

But, it’s far from over.  Encouragingly, Ron Wyden and Rand Paul are planning to introduce an amendment to require a warrant for searches of incidentally collected information – a reform supported by a broad alliance of human rights and civil liberties organizations.*   And especially if that amendment isn’t adopted, it’s possible that either the House or the Senate won’t pass an extension – which would be a very good thing for civil liberties.

People holding up signs saying "Stop Spying On Us"

Activists oustide the FISA Court, September 2017 (via Demand Progress)

EFF’s excellent resource on Decoding 702 has a good overview of the problems with FISA 702.  When Get FISA Right first started almost a decade ago, a lot of these seemed hypothetical.  In 2017, thanks to General Flynn, Paul Manafort, and the DC culture of leaking, real-world examples are in today’s headlines.   As a result, a lot of Republicans who previously have been pro-surveillance are having some qualms as well about the issues civil liberties advocates have focused on for years.  For example:

The battle over Patriot Act reauthorization in 2015 showed that the alliance of progressives, libertarians, and Tea Partiers is strong enough to have an impact if they stick to their guns.   Lawfare‘s detailed analysis of support for Section 702 in the Senate suggests that in addition to Rand Paul, up to a dozen Republican Senators might not support reauthorization without reforms.  Then again, there are quite a few Democratic Senators who routinely support mass surveillance.

Back in April I wrote

When the bills start to move forward and activists crank up “call your representatives!” campaigns, it might well be the first time Indivisible and the Tea Party find themselves on the same side of an issue — working with the Center for Media Justice, Cato Institute, the American Library Association, and other strange bedfellows. For the first time in years, the political winds may actually be aligning for surveillance reform. And there’s certainly a lot of grassroots energy out there.

Since then, grassroots activism has really showed its strength on other issues – most notably the health care battle.  Indivisible, with its emphasis on creative protests and in-person meetings with staffers as well as phone campaigns, is particularly well-positioned  to pressure wimpy Democrats to hold the line on civil liberties – and to build on its successes pressuring potentially-wavering Republicans.  Center for Media Justice and Color for Change have built deep connections with the civil liberties community. Longtime stalwarts like EFF, ACLU, Defending Rights & Dissent, and the ALA – and grassroots civil liberties groups like Restore the Fourth and Get FISA Right – continue to fight as well.  Will it be enough?

Stay tuned – and get involved!

Also posted on Medium.

NSA vs. USA, by Shahid Buttar

 


 

* Including EFF, Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, the ACLU, the American Library Association, Restore the Fourth, Defending Rights and Dissent, EPIC, CDT, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the NAACP, the National Immigration Law Center, and Demand Progress.  Broad-based indeed!


FISA 702 Reauthorization: The Fight Against Mass Surveillance Continues

April 2, 2017

Almost a decade after Get FISA Right was born, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act is once again up for reauthorization. FISA provides the legal basis for warrantless surveillance, and when it was originally passed over strenuous objections from civil libertarians in 2008, it included a “sunset clause”. After being extended once in the lame-duck session in late 2012, Section 702 will sunset if it’s not reauthorized again by the end of the year.

Stop Watching Us demonstration in DC, 2013, photo from the Daily Mail

As usual, the White House is pushing for a “clean reauth” — extending the provisions without any further reforms. As usual, civil libertarians across the political spectrum are pushing for reform. As usual, the government is saying they can’t even count how many Americans are swept up in target coverage. As usual, Ron Wyden is concerned and speaking out.

But there are some big differences this time around.

Read the rest of this entry »