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 »

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Disinformation and Propaganda Amendment to Defense Authorization

December 26, 2016

This is not directly related to our core FISA issue of warrantless wiretapping, but it is clearly of importance to those of us who appreciate truth in media and journalistic standards that include independence and honesty, who prefer our editorial opinions on the Op-Ed page (or Web0site equivalent), not disguised as “hard news”, which we expect to be fact-based reporting.

It was called the “Ministry of Truth” by George Orwell, and some suggest that it is coming to the U.S.A. State Department,  authorized by an amendment to a defense authorization bill that allows the federal government to spread propaganda not just internationally, as it has long done, but also domestically‚ to U.S.A. citizens, using materials created for foreign audiences in support of government policies that might be unpopular here at home—wars, for instance.

The bipartisan bill, which was introduced by Senators Portman and Murphy in March, will . . . .establish an interagency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. To support these efforts, the bill also creates a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other experts outside government who are engaged in counter-propaganda related work. (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-12-24/obama-signs-countering-disinformation-and-propaganda-act-law)

Here is an article with more information: http://vigilantcitizen.com/latestnews/new-bill-legalizes-government-propaganda-and-disinformation-on-american-citizens/

and, from that article, this:

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

This amendment would

essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

Interestingly, the Smith-Mundt Act was passed shortly after the end of World War II—presumably to rein in the war-propaganda machine?

It seems to me that something so substantial deserved more attention than it was given, both when passed by the Senate back in March and at its passage by the House of Representatives on the Friday before Christmas and quick signature by the president that same day.  It is disturbing that this was quietly done, as described in that same article:

“I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing,” says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law. According to this source, the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”

The new law would give sweeping powers to the government to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

In a society that relies so completely on checks and balances, on oversight, it is troubling in the extreme to see current limitations removed—particularly just before the inauguration of a president-elect noted for misrepresentations and extremist rhetoric in his use of media.


Please Sign: An e-mail message from Ron Wyden

October 5, 2016

The group that originally began this Web site/blog was concerned with the expansion of government surveillance outside that allowed by the FISA Court; then-Senator Obama voted in favor of warrantless wiretapping in July 2008, and as his administration closes 8 years later it seems that the FBI is about to get new surveillance abilities. We supported Barack Obama in 2008, drifted away to various degrees by 2012, and largely moved on to individual projects. However, when something related comes up, one of us will pop over here to spread the word. Here is the correspondence from Sen. Wyden:

An obscure committee in the federal bureaucracy recently voted to allow the FBI to hack into your personal devices and access your personal data without obtaining an individual warrant to do so.

The changes approved by the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules to what is known as “Rule 41” would allow the government to get a single warrant to hack into an unlimited number of computers and digital devices owned by law-abiding Americans if their device was merely affected by criminal activity.

This dramatic and constitutionally questionable expansion of the government’s hacking and surveillance authority is poised to go into effect on December 1 – unless Congress acts. Such a change should be debated by Congress in the light of day – not handed down by unelected bureaucrats.

Here is the link to Sen. Wyden’s petition: https://standtallforamerica.com/petition/stop-mass-hacking/e/


FCC’s Net Neutrality Regulations Survive Challenge

June 14, 2016

A panel of judges ruled today to uphold the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules—which prohibit blocking legal content or throttling based on type, as well as disallowing the so-called “fast lanes” for preferred content. Although the rules do not include mobile services that do not include streaming that does not count against a user’s data cap, they nonetheless protect the basic concept of an Internet that “plays fair”, allowing users free choice of the legal content they choose without artificial, marketing-based restrictions. Score one for us! (and keep watching in case we need to defend this further)


Today: this just in from Facebook

May 31, 2014

http://on.fb.me/1kcadWt
Rally at 3 p.m. this afternoon #OpNSA
If you are a long-time reader here, you know why this matters—otherwise, scroll down.
(Sorry for quick post; crazy busy day.)


Today’s the Day!

May 15, 2014

BREAKING (at least for me; I have not been on the ’Net since this morning): FCC voted to end ’Net Neutrality, not to regulate the ’Net as a common carrier.  Massive outcry to all 5 commissioners is needed; some of them expressed concerns.  Check with Daily Kos, EFF, etc. Verizon and ATT are against us; Netflix, Google, Amazon support ’Net neutrality.

Occupy the FCC—a group led, I believe, by Fight for the Future, together with EFF and others, have been camped outside the FCC in Washington, D.C. waiting for today’s meeting.  The FCC has proposed tw0-tiered Internet service, with preferred (read paying) content providers getting faster speeds.  They claim that no speeds would be reduced, that they would just accelerate some—but that is not the point.  Once other speeds are accelerated, what we now consider “normal”—which already varies based on the equipment with which one accesses the ’Net—would seem quite slow, and the preference would be for the sites of those entities who can afford to pay to stay in the fast lane—certainly not most of “the 99%”, not those involved in sociopolitical activism.

Already, there have been petitions, and Tom Wheeler (@FCCTomWheeler), chairperson of the FCC, has responded (at least I have received an e-mail in reply to one I signed) that he [paraphrasing; will edit when I can get back to my e-mail] “believes in an open Internet”—interesting, as he has been promoting the two-tiered approach.

We do have a partial victory—the FCC is seeking public comment on regulating the Internet as a public utility.  This seems right to me; like (almost exactly) telephone service, like water or electricity, the Internet, for better or worse (mostly, I think, better, until I wonder about what skills we might have lost) has become virtually a necessity; certainly enables us to do as much as we do and communicate more efficiently (although sometimes not as personally; we can also drown in information overload).  Telephone companies are considered “common carriers”, all phone calls are created equal—so must be all Internet communication.


What’s up with that, anyway?

August 3, 2013

This month has been a busy one from a government-surveillance perspective.

From the NSA spying on U.S. citizens, allied governments, as well as the usual “suspects”—foreign nationals unprotected by the United States constitution (What’s up with that, anyway? Don’t we expect our government to behave respectfully toward all—as long as there is no cause for suspicion? Guess not),

to Edward Snowden taking temporary asylum in Russia (What’s up with that, anyway? Isn’t the United States the country that respects human rights, freedom of the press; the place where political dissidents go to avoid persecution? Guess not),

to the end of Bradley Manning’s trial (What’s up with that, anyway? Aren’t judges supposed to protect from 11th—no, 13th-hour change in charges? Guess not),

We are finding that our country is no longer what those of us of a certain age remember.  Some of us are wondering how long we have been sold a bill of goods, even rethinking Watergate—yes, that president resigned in disgrace, despite his allegation that “if the president does it, it’s legal” (which a generation rose up to decry).  Yes, we put in an entire system of laws, including the FISA court, to prevent such actions from recurring.  But no, it seems that, rather than being an isolated incident by a rogue president, it was instead—as we might have learned from the Pentagon Papers, which Daniel Ellsberg courageously released to the public through The Washington Post and The New York Times (the Internet not yet being even a glimmer in some DARPA scientist’s eye), as Bradley Manning released information via WikiLeaks on the ’Net.

And yesterday, the announcement of closing embassies on Sunday (not sure what to think of that) and a global travel alert asking U. S. citizens to register with our consulates overseas.  Would that make you feel safer?

We should have known.

Actually, we did know—this group formed in July 2008, in reaction to then-Senator Obama’s vote on the FISA Amendments Act—a vote to, among other things, give retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies for warrantless wiretaps.  Little did we know about PRISM, or Bountiful Informant—which were probably not in full flower then, maybe did not exist—but the seeds were there.

Very few of us would change the results of the 2008 presidential election—even those of the 2012 election, as a third-party presidential candidate is virtually unelectable in this country.  However, by November 2011 tour mission statement proclaimed us no longer “proud Obama supporters”, but “informally affiliated individuals who supported President Obama during his candidacy in large part because of his call for hope and a new kind of politics.”.  At least some of us voted third parties in 2012, or sat out the presidential vote.  Here, we have continued to rail against the policies that have been created or followed since 2008 (as have others, elsewhere, of course).   In the first Obama election, we were among the majority who elected a candidate whom we believed would diminish the power of the imperial executive branch, not to expand those powers (a candidate, I remind you, who ran on a platform of transparency).

Not completely naïve, we did note in 2009 how difficult that would be for even the best candidate, once in office (read back through our posts from that time), but we certainly did not expect expansion of powers, nor the secretive surveillance state that seems to be in place today.
Yesterday afternoon, I got from RootsAction an E-mail that included Norman Solomon’s USA Today column; here, a quotation from that:
Consent of the governed is meaningful only to the extent that it is informed consent. Bradley Manning let Americans, and many others around the world, know what their governments were really doing. The disclosures caused problems for leaders in many nations who much preferred to operate behind an opaque curtain. . . .
It’s easy to insist that Bradley Manning must face the consequences of his actions. But we badly need whistle-blowers like Manning because U.S. government leaders do not face the consequences of their actions, including perpetual warfare abroad and assaults on civil liberties at home.
No government should have the power to keep waging war while using secrecy to cloak policies that cannot stand the light of day. Thank goodness for the courage of Bradley Manning.

It seems as though our government wants everyone’s information—unreasonable search and seizure be damned—but wants to share none.  Unacceptable, I say—and encourage everyone to find a local Restore the Fourth event tomorrow and join the patriotic resistance.