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 (; 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.


GPS Privacy Legislation after the PATRIOT Act

November 26, 2016

This post is more a request for information than a provision of same.

I was discussing cell-phone privacy, and a friend mentioned that since the World Trade Center attacks all cell phones have GPS location devices that are trackable even when off.  I was not sure of the accuracy of that statement (though we all know that the so-called PATRIOT Act was a vast overreaction and overreach), so I went hunting for current law.

I did not find much; I did find a government site from 2014 that had a link to a page about pending legislation; that page was updated 2 months ago (28 Oct. 2016).  Here is the link:

The original page ( also had information on the 2012 Jones decision and on lower-court rulings, including one that required a warrant for GPS-based vehicle trackers (later vacated and to be reheard, according to the site today [26 Nov. 2016]).

I think we have some work to do, between all the other ball-juggling that is happening: Electoral College, vote recounts, proposals for mass registration and deportations, Dakota Access water-protector repression, racist appointments, etc.  Already, many folks are talking about the need for encrypting e-mails and phone conversations/messages—is that actually useful, or just an illusion because Internet Service Providers give everything to the government, anyway?

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)