Two very important websites:
- THOMAS (Library of Congress) — full text of all bills, motions, and amendments in Congress along with all role-call votes.
- Project Vote Smart
— Find out how particular Senators and Representatives
voted on particular bills and motions sorted into
I have heard a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about wiretapping bills in Congress this past weekend. I am assuming that most of what I heard on NPR was related to the (ostentatiously named) Protect America Act of 2007.
From what I heard on the radio, this is somehow supposed to allow
the government to eavesdrop on foreign calls routed through United
States computers using voice-over-IP (
which is way over my
head — said the law expert interviewed on NPR yesterday
when pressed about why he was so vague on what this law actually
Maybe I'm blind and dumb, but I'm not seeing it. I've read the
full text twice and select parts of it four or five times trying
to figure out what sort of surveillance this law allows. It appears
to only allow surveillance that is not
of people who are reasonably believed to be located out of
the United States.
Gotcha? There's way too much room for the
Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to decide
how one defines
electronic surveillance Additionally, it is
stated mostly in terms of
You can do X,Y,Z without saying
and only X,Y,Z. One could argue that this act says we cannot
read the Pope's email, but it does not say we can't read Sean Penn's
While I am glad my representative
voted against it, the act does require that the Director of
National Intelligence and the Attorney General certify under oath
the acquisition does not constitute electronic surveillance.
Admittedly, I'm sure our Attorney General can, with a straight face,
assert that intercepting VoIP packets is not electronic. But, he
can also clearly be sanctioned for perjury for that assertion.
There is a provision whereby the Attorney General must submit to the Court (within 120 days of the act's effective date), the procedures by which the Government determines that they are not using electronic surveillance. Raise your hand if you believe that the procedures submitted on day 120 will be the same as the procedures in use on day 121. If you are raising your hand, bite down now on the cyanide capsule provided.
Beyond that, the only review the Court has is to decide whether
the above procedures for determining what constitutes electronic
surveillance are clearly erroneous. What if the procedures
are too vague to make any determination? Raise your hand if you
think that upon reading the document one will be certain that the
Government deems keyboard sniffing, email intercepting, ISP
strong-arming, Van Eck phreaking, bank transfer monitoring, and/or
cell-phone snooping as
electronic. If you have your hand
raised, I applaud your immunity to cyanide. Carbon monoxide masks
will drop from the ceiling.
And, even if the procedures are
the Goverment can continue acquisitions under the procedures while
they appeal their case to the Supreme Court. And, the punishment
clearly erroneous procedures is that you have 30
days to make new procedures (that may or may not also be
There also doesn't seem to be any oversight about the procedures
by which the Government deems a person is
to be located outside the United States. The closest is a
semi-annual reporting to Congress about acquisitions during that
period. Of course, that report does not have to include any
information about who or what was acquired. That report only has
to include any incidents of non-compliance by elements of the
Intelligence Community. Non-compliance with the law? No, silly
bean. Non-compliance with Attorney General or National
Intelligence Director procedures and directives.
Oh, and the act has a life-limit of 180 days. Good luck with that semi-annual reporting to Congress or getting certiorari or anything else of use at all.
There was a suggestion on NPR that the House Democrats caved on this bill because they didn't want to adjourn, have something bad happen, then get the blame for it. I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin:
Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Here, the only safety they purchased was CYA insurance. For this, they gave six-months free-reign to the clearly erroneous Attorney General. Feh.