Thursday, January 24, 2008
As I understand it, John Edwards came out publicly to oppose either warrantless surveillance, or immunity, or both, last fall sometime [his current stump speech includes a line about ending "illegal" spying on Americans]. I don't remember the details, and it's hard to tell how much the campaign has been following the intricate ins and outs of the FISA debate.
So to try to help counteract the latest White House PR push for immunity for their well-heeled secret corporate surveillance partners, here're a few reminders and links about the core provisions of the amendments to FISA (beyond the brazen immunity provisions) that will be on the floor of the Senate this Thursday, in spite of Chris Dodd's hold on the Intelligence Committee bill, courtesy of "Majority Leader" Harry Reid:
These two bills (the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committee FISA bills) are about (in addition to immunity in the Intelligence bill's Title II) "Link Analysis" and the "largest database ever assembled in the world" - as indirectly confirmed by the House Judiciary Committee's report on its FISA bill "RESTORE," which cited the following two news articles as describing activity that the RESTORE Act (and thus obviously the two Senate bills) would permit:
...The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
The usefulness of the NSA's domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.
For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events. - Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY, May 11, 2006
...Matt Blaze, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania and a former researcher for AT&T, said the telecommunications companies could have easily provided the F.B.I. with the type of network analysis data it was seeking because they themselves had developed it over many years, often using sophisticated software like a program called Analyst's Notebook.
"This sort of analysis of calling patterns and who the communities of interests are is the sort of things telephone companies are doing anyway because it's central to their businesses for marketing or optimizing the network or detecting fraud," said Professor Blaze, who has worked with the F.B.I. on technology issues.
Such "analysis is extremely powerful and very revealing because you get these linkages between people that wouldn't be otherwise clear, sometimes even more important than the content itself" of phone calls and e-mail messages, he said. "But it's also very invasive. There's always going to be a certain amount of noise," with data collected on people who have no real links to suspicious activity, he said.
But critics assert that the further the links are taken, the less valuable the information proves to be. - Eric Lichtblau, the New York Times, September 9, 2007
Both articles were cited in Footnote #27 of the House Judiciary Committee report on RESTORE, released October 12, 2007:
This is not about the 'foreign to foreign on a U.S. wire' problem that has been used as justification for these revisions/eviscerations of FISA - that issue is separately addressed and resolved in these bills. This is a brand new world of spying being authorized by Congress against innocent Americans (under Title I of the Senate bills) without any meaningful Judicial Branch check. New corporate and government spying authority which is being accompanied by a simultaneous effort to hold immune from lawsuits the cooperating corporations, that would block off Judicial Branch review to prevent the Supreme Court from having an opportunity to rule that these spying authorities openly violate the Fourth Amendment.
This is collusion between the Executive and Legislative Branches of government to end-run the Constitution, and to try to avoid any check from the Judicial Branch which would stop and reverse this deliberate invasion of our privacy and knowing violation of our Constitution. If Members of Congress could be impeached, on this issue the American people would easily convict those complicit in this collusion, and would throw them out of office with the contempt they have so thoroughly earned.
Both Chris Dodd's Congressional Record floor comments in December and Russ Feingold's website contain excellent summaries, arguments, and details about this issue - they have all the information Edwards would need to get up to speed on this matter.
The course our nation is on will not self-correct if left to its own devices.