back to article Jackboot dangled over NSA's throat for US spy dragnet outrage

The US House of Representatives will vote today on axing funding for controversial eavesdropping projects run by the NSA and other spooks. The politicians will be asked to approve an amendment that will prevent Uncle Sam's spies from snooping on Americans en masse. While the NSA is under fire for hoovering up foreigners' …

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  1. Vimes

    'Informed open or deliberative'? A blunt approach?

    It was the blunt approach after 9/11 that gave us the PATRIOT act to begin with, when congress showed all the collective backbone of a jellyfish, preferring instead to cave in to fear and panic, and that was hardly informed, open or deliberative either...

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Well done this guy!

    2. Hollerith 1

      Land of the...?

      Land of the Free, Home of the ... weenies. 9/11 was horrific, and the response was 'save us! save us! take all our liberties and rights but just make us s-a-f-e!!!' Because nothing makes you safer than cringing. It could have been the USA's finest hour. Instead, we sold ourselves out.

    3. Steve Knox
      Thumb Down

      It was the blunt approach after 9/11 that gave us the PATRIOT act to begin with, when congress showed all the collective backbone of a jellyfish, preferring instead to cave in to fear and panic, and that was hardly informed, open or deliberative either...

      Agreed. Are you now arguing that they should do the same again?

      Reread Representative Amash's own words. They are clearly designed to inspire the same type of fear and panic (albeit directed elsewhere) that, as you rightly point out, caused this mess in the first place.

      Shouldn't our governance be driven by more rational words, thought and behavior? Or do you believe we should fight fire with fire until the whole country burns?

      1. Joe User
        Thumb Up

        Are you now arguing that they should do the same again?

        On the contrary: Representative Amash is trying to undo a previous blunt-force approach.

        1. Steve Knox
          Thumb Down

          On the contrary: Representative Amash is trying to undo a previous blunt-force approach.

          By using the same tactics.

          Look at the recent history of legislation in the US. From 9/11 to the financial and automotive industry bailouts, from the debt ceiling to gun control, from health care to budget to immigration reform, every cause is treated as an "emergency" because those involved want to minimize rational debate.

          THAT is a much greater national problem than any phone spying the NSA has been doing.

          1. oolor

            @ Steve Knox: I agree with yours and Vimes' assessments of the fear mongering in general, but a quick perusal of the man's wikipedia page shows that my initial gut feeling that was similar to your assessment is wrong. Amash has consistently pursued this tack and voted against the vast majority of his party on related matters. He has a Ron Paul-like take on these matters, so in this case we may not be able to tar him with the normal pol brush (he happens to have taken over for Paul as chair of the Liberty Caucus).

            I have little opinion this way or that about said folks, but on such matters they are remarkably consistent and straightforward. I found the Washington elite comment provocative since he technically is one, but given the above facts, I'll chalk it up to something between not-too-unreasonable and above-average-political-theater. My own brain fart was that if he keeps it up, they will give him a nice committee spot to shut him up, but the Liberty thing makes that unlikely.

      2. Vimes

        Agreed. Are you now arguing that they should do the same again?

        No. I'm suggesting they should scrap the whole mess and try again. If the extensive spying is really needed then it should not be so difficult to justify both to the public and the politicians. After all he's following the political process. Presumably the government will have their say too.

        It's something I've asked my own MP about in the past in regards to the snooper's charter. The best I could get out of him was 'if you knew what I knew' which was of no help whatsoever. If it really is so absolutely necessary to have these powers then they shouldn't need to fall back on to the old 'trust us' excuse. The fact that they do and try and dress up this as a mere update of existing powers - and it is more than that - is rather telling.

        Let them justify the powers that they expect to have for once.

      3. Euripides Pants

        "Or do you believe we should fight fire with fire until the whole country burns?"

        I'm ready with the marshmallows...

    4. beep54
      FAIL

      Pretty much figured that any number of people would have made this point before could get to it. That sentence sticks out from the moment you encounter it like your guts hanging from your own abdomen

  2. Vimes

    In other news closer to home:

    "It is difficult to see why a small, rural town such as Royston requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town 24 hours a day," said Stephen Eckersley, the ICO's head of enforcement.

    "The use of ANPR [automatic number plate recognition] cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23433138

    If memory serves the inquest into the 7/7 bombings clearly stated that it was highly unlikely that having access to any additional data would have made the blindest bit of difference. It would be interesting to hear somebody from GCHQ explain why they think the blanket hovering of data is proportionate given the apparently limited usefulness of such information.

    1. g e

      I'm fairly sure GCHQ would say

      We are GCHQ.

      We don't "justify"

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      ANPR could have stopped the 7/7

      It would have allowed the police to detect that possible northerners were entering the Southern Co-Prosperity Zone - and they could have been herded back to their northern hovels.

    3. Chris Beach

      They'd probably say we don't, but we can't stop politicians from believing it.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    God I love the Justification....

    "US chief spook: Look, we only want to spy on 6.66 BEELLLION of you"... "US spy-boss James Clapper has once again emerged from the shadows to insist that America's global-spanning web surveillance programme is lawful and only targets foreigners."

    Lawful in US laws only!!! To the Big Bully--- How lawful is it to the rest of the rock Mr. Clapper?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: God I love the Justification....

      "Lawful in US laws only!!!"

      There are other laws? WTF?

      </sarc>

      1. g e
        Holmes

        Re: God I love the Justification....

        "What is this 'Rest of World' of which you speak?"

        1. lglethal Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: God I love the Justification....

          "What is this 'Rest of World' of which you speak?"

          "Canada?"

          1. Rukario

            Re: God I love the Justification....

            "Canada?"

            That's a village in Kansas.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: God I love the Justification....

              and north America is a ruined farm in s yorks. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:North_America_Farm_ruins.jpg

            2. oolor
              Pint

              Re: That's a village in Kansas.

              Phew, good cover. We didn't need that getting out, eh?

              Your loyal service to the Great White North will be rewarded with free beer for life. Sadly, it is a secret law and YBMV (the B is for Beerage).

    2. mhoulden
      Big Brother

      Re: God I love the Justification....

      "Are you a foreigner?"

      "No."

      "Can you prove it?"

      "No."

      "Then we assume that you are."

      This approach is also a reason why immigration policies really need to be less hysterical. Introduce rules that are "supposed" to be used only on people from abroad and apply them to everyone just in case they might not be telling the truth.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: God I love the Justification....

        That's the reason for the increased use of metal detectors in public buildings

        If you can fit your gut through the gates AND you aren't carrying a gun - you obviously aren't a true American

  4. BornToWin

    Hope this stupidity is defeated

    It's amazing how naive people are when it comes to the operations of the world and their security.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Hope this stupidity is defeated

      Perhaps, but maybe that's because we aren't given the information to be other than "naive". It seems to me that we have a small set of people who have set up their idea " the operations of the world and their security", and don't actually want to see how the rest of us view the world.

      To put it another way - I don't want the world run by a bunch of paranoids who think they know better what is good for the rest of us than we do. If there is significant risk from somewhere, everyone should know about it so that proper oversight can be made of political and other action. I do not consider that there is any risk from any other government or other organisation that requires action so quickly that it cannot be properly debated. I do not live in fear.

  5. JimmyPage
    WTF?

    Talk about brass neck ..

    "This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process. We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation," it added.

    As if the original implementation was the product of open informed debate ?

    A dictionary definition of "Chutzpah"

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do you think it will ever stop?

    I don't!

    The reality is we are now all guilty, so govs can use any tech to spy and record our actions.

    90% of the public are not intelligent enough to consider just how depraved this action is.

    Protecting me from terrorism/criminal investigations is not a good enough excuse to spy on me and record my actions, never mind all of the advertising tracking thats is done!

    Where is my voice? Ignored! So much for beloved democracy!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Do you think it will ever stop?

      It will all stop after world war 3 or a bunch of civil wars. I don't know if any humans will be left to enjoy the new found 'freedom' though.

      1. Tomato42
        Boffin

        Re: Do you think it will ever stop?

        well, of course it will end after WW3, it's hard to spy on other people when the only technology you have are sticks and stones (and no, I don't mean the new gadgets from the fruity company)...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      4 huge data centers

      When they defunded TIA, first they renamed it from TOTAL information awareness, to 'TERRORISM information awareness', but it still got defunded in 2004

      TIA was effectively this same program delayed until 2007 when the Telcos got immunity and NSA became above the law.

      http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/07/02/before-prism-there-was-total-information-awareness/

      The thing about these programs is create huge data centers visible from space and its difficult to do them in secret without somebody noticing these huge data centers.

  7. Alpha Tony

    Rather than 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act' they should have called it 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Telecommunication Examination Directive'. Has a nice ring to it.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      @Alpha Tony

      "Rather than 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act' they should have called it 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Telecommunication Examination Directive'. Has a nice ring to it."

      Well, isn't that what they are doing?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Telecommunication Examination Directive

      Has a nice ring to it.

      Yup, I saw what you did there :)

  8. Sil

    A few good men

    Thank God for a few good men, long live the 4th

    1. Vimes

      Re: A few good men

      Except that the 4th amendment has already been attacked. Live within 100 miles of the border or coast? Then the 4th amendment doesn't exist according to the US DHS.

      http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/02/electronics-border-seizures/

      Of course they expect people to ignore that most of the largest centres of population exist within that 100 mile zone.

      1. Rukario
        Black Helicopters

        Re: A few good men

        > Of course they expect people to ignore that most of the largest centres of population exist within that 100 mile zone.

        As does about 80% of Canada's population.

      2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        fireworks on the 4th

        Vimes, the 4th amendment has been “attacked” since the Act of July 31, 1789, two years before the 4th amendment became part of the US constitution. Please see Anonymous Coward’s post on this topic here, and my two replies immediately following it. (Background context to my replies to Anonymous Coward can be found in my replies following Chris_Maresca’s post here.)

  9. WonkoTheSane
    Big Brother

    Budget Cuts?

    Remember, this is only the NSA's _public_ budget threatened with cuts.

    Their "Black Budget"* will increase by 2x any cuts to compensate.

    * Black Budget - Concealed funding ($20,000 for a toilet seat , etc)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Michigan Republican Justin Amash has some balls

    Well he has balls, I'll grant him that.

    That big database of everyone's communications contains *his* comms too. his families, his friends, his doctors, everything.

    If they can't find enough dirt in that lot that can be used to smear him then he's a saint.

    Same goes for everyone else in the House of Representatives, General Alexander has everything about you and can simply run queries on the data without requiring a warrant because it's all in his department under his control.

    I hope you all have even 10% of the balls that Snowden had.

    Because in Britain we have William Hague, whose signed off on mass surveillance, police, MPs, ministers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, the lot, all their data is captured and stuck in a database, and William Hague thinks that's fine and completely within the right to privacy because GCHQ are all saints and everyone they spy on is a potential terrorists.

    I wish someone in the UK had the balls to stand up to to the NSA chief who told GCHQ to 'record it all' as if he was the boss.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Michigan Republican Justin Amash has some balls

      If anyone found any damning dirt about him using this, he'd probably be happy if it were released since it would guarantee his amendment passes. The rest of congress would see that the government is willing to use this power against even THEM, and there's nothing quicker to get congress to act than to think the issues that the common man suffers from can also affect them. Or did you think it was a coincidence that congress passes a lot of laws that they except themselves from?

  11. earl grey
    Big Brother

    All the justification we need

    Because we can....

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "Give me 6 lines from an honest man and I'll find something to hang him."

    Attributed to Cardinal Richleau, but probably coined by one of his staff.

    And the NSA (or a reciprocal data sharing agreement with other agencies in other countries) had collected rather more than 6 lines.

    Anyone think it's time to start going through those 360+ paragraphs of THE PATRIOT Act with a red pen?

    1. hplasm
      Thumb Up

      Re: "Give me 6 lines from an honest man and I'll find something to hang him."

      "Anyone think it's time to start going through those 360+ paragraphs of THE PATRIOT Act with a red pen?"

      A big red "X" through them all?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        @hplasm

        "A big red "X" through them all?"

        Tempting admittedly but I think something a little more nuanced might get broader approval.

        That way you've got more of a chance of getting the more SEL contingent ("America is under attack 24/7/365 from within and without. We must have this to stop another Boston").

        Oh wait, they did have it before Boston. The SEL will argue that's because the surveillance was not extensive enough of course.

    2. Mephistro
      Devil

      Re: "Give me 6 lines from an honest man and I'll find something to hang him." (@ John Smith 19)

      Why a red pen? A welding torch would be better, IMHO.

      1. David1

        Re: "Give me 6 lines from an honest man and I'll find something to hang him." (@ John Smith 19)

        No, we will need all the welding torches we can muster to destroy the hardware which is being used by NSA - hopefully we will have sufficient acetylene to complete the job.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Give me 6 lines from an honest man and I'll find something to hang him." (@ John Smith 19)

          That's unnecessary. Just give me the rigs for mining bitcoins. ;)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not quite

    "The politicians will be asked to approve an amendment that will prevent Uncle Sam's spies from snooping on Americans en masse."

    It won't prevent anything. It can only make certain activities illegal.

    Since when did that stop the "intelligence community" doing anything?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      Re: Not quite

      "It won't prevent anything. It can only make certain activities illegal."

      Now, when your boss comes to you and tells you to commit an act you now know to be ilegal should you say a)Yes no problem or b)They've changed the rules and my pension is down the toilet if I agree to do this?

      Actual formal illegality can have a calming effect on the men in the cubes who actually have to do this.

      Not much, but some.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I called my Congresswoman and asked her to support the amendment

    She's a Democrat, so we'll see if she bucks our Deal Leader Obama over this one. And yes, I'd rather we have a real debate over this before we passed something like this, but our leaders don't seem to want a real debate. Mostly the President seems to be interested in calling for a debate where his administration games the rules so that the "con" side of the argument has no access to what is actually going on with these programs while the "pro" side invokes unverified conterterrorism successes and how if things are changed Osama Bin Laden will rise from the grave and run down Main Street USA strangling cute little kids and kicking puppies....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: I called my Congresswoman and asked her to support the amendment

      FYI, I'm glad to say that my Congresswoman did vote in favor of this amendment. So thank you Congresswoman Jackie Speier. While the amendment didn't pass, it was close enough I hope that it will serve as a step forward in ultimately rolling back the surveillance society we are in danger of becoming.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: I called my Congresswoman and asked her to support the amendment

      "And yes, I'd rather we have a real debate over this before we passed something like this, but our leaders don't seem to want a real debate. "

      Well AFAIK the "debate" on THE PATRIOT Act was essentially. "Support this. It will protect American forever and if you don't support it you're practically a terrorist."

      You might like to look up the voting record in both houses on it.

      I think their was damm little dissent from either party.

      Good rule of thumb. Someone hands you a 360 clause contract and says you've got 5 minutes to read it and sign it or they walk. Tell them to walk.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    J Edgar Hoover

    Back in the day, Hoover would send FBI agents out to look into the lives of his political critics to find any dirt they could hover up. He then used this to make sure that they voted in the correct way on any FBI budgets being considered.

    How much you want to bet that the NSA isn't doing this right now. There have been a lot of government employees (Weiner, Petraeus) that have recently been outed using their social Internet networking. I wonder if our own Senator Ron Wyden (R-OR) isn't next given his comments today on the NSA asking the representatives to vote to not fund it.

    It also isn't only the NSA that is hovering up records. I just got a special US Census form to fill out asking many personal questions about race and income. It's the law, don't complete it and they come after you.

    Perhaps I should be careful, being in the USA and sending this to the UK, but I don't really give a damn right now.

  16. Old Handle
    Meh

    Well, failed to pass. But only by 12 votes. Not bad all things considered. I hope this the the beginning and not the end of attempts to change some of this nonsense legislatively.

  17. JohnMurray

    And for the full round-up of who voted what:

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-24/these-are-217-people-who-voted-preserve-nsa-surveillance

    1. hplasm
      Devil

      re:And for the full round-up of who voted what:

      That should be used in the next round of electioneering.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Black Helicopters

      @JohnMurray

      "And for the full round-up of who voted what:"

      Ultimately the only district you can affect is you own.

      You have to go tactical. If enough of these people are voted out at the next election and it's made clear why people did it that may change the next lot a bit.

      The question do and what should people be more afraid of.

      A single even that happened 12 years ago and affected 2 cities or a their own government spying on them with no evidence of wrong doing other than (like the other 300m US citizens) they might do something that might break the law or threaten The State (because the implication behind these laws is that The State is more important than the citizens, which imply they exist to serve it, not the other way around).

      I think I'd know which one I'd be more afraid of.

  18. Vimes

    US House votes to continue NSA's phone surveillance

    The US House of Representatives has narrowly voted to continue collecting data on US phone calls, in the first legislative move on the programme.

    In a 205-217 vote, lawmakers rejected an effort to restrict the National Security Agency's (NSA) ability to collect electronic information.

    BBC News article

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