Patrick (patrickwonders) wrote,

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Politics Stuff...

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 issues categories.

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 allows).

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 electronic surveillance of people who are reasonably believed to be located out of the United States.

What's the 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 email.

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 that 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 clearly erroneous, the Goverment can continue acquisitions under the procedures while they appeal their case to the Supreme Court. And, the punishment for having clearly erroneous procedures is that you have 30 days to make new procedures (that may or may not also be clearly erroneous).

There also doesn't seem to be any oversight about the procedures by which the Government deems a person is reasonably believed 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.

Tags: civil liberties, politics
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