back to article US Senate passes USA Freedom Act – a long lip service to NSA reforms

The US Senate has passed the USA Freedom Act that adds mild limits to Uncle Sam's intelligence agencies' activities on American soil. It was passed with a 67-32 vote. Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security. I'll sign it as soon as I get it. — President Obama (@ …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Hopefully, this is just a start.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Of the FBI flying spy planes over public protests monitoring the cell phones of US citizens daring to openly do democracy

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      IF (and it's a pretty big if) we believe certain Congress Critters, yes... it's a start. Senator Ron Wyden has been very vocal about these things and he's slowly convincing others to see the light (so to speak). At least for now with this bit of legislation, they just can't slurp everything but have to get a warrant for the data metadata from the Telco.

      1. Bill Stewart

        The "USA Freedom Act" was a compromise between pro-privacy people who wanted to control the NSA's spying and the pro-spying Congress members - but it was written before the court decision that invalidated most of the NSA's bulk collection, and before the Senate decided not to renew Part 215 of the "USA Patriot Act", so by the time it was passed, it ended up authorizing some data collection that was no longer allowed by earlier laws (which it had been trying to restrict) and got almost nothing in return.

  2. iLuddite

    "Freedom" Act

    What does the US call legislation covering capital punishment? The Born Again Act?

    1. Steve Knox
      Childcatcher

      Re: "Freedom" Act

      It's worse than you fear.

      The actual title of the act is:

      "Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2015"

      I believe we can conclude from this that two centuries of competitive campaigning selects for inane acronym affinity (acronymiphilia?).

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon
        Coat

        Re: "Freedom" Act

        "inane acronym affinity (acronymiphilia?)."

        More like Acronomicon.

        "Did you say the words correctly?"

        "Uh..yeah...sure..." <aaaarrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhh>

  3. GH1618

    A weaker system

    Moving the call record database out of NSA weakens both the security and the effectiveness of the database, in my opinion. At last they restored the capability, which is a good thing. I'm ok with the changes to the FISA court.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A weaker system

      What a large target! That's assuming that someone other than the NSA doesn't crack it first.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A weaker system

      The telcos kept this information already. Worst case someone hacks into them and knows who you called/texted. That's not a problem in general, only if they're able to target you and do that specifically (think mob hits, stalking battered wives, etc.) How do you think they know what to bill you? Maybe not today with unlimited everything, but a decade ago when you were charged per minute on each call and per text, and AT&T would send you a 10 page paper bill detailing every single call and text message...

      The telcos aren't keeping what you're saying, just the info on what numbers you called. Even the NSA's new billion dollar datacenter couldn't come within three orders of magnitude of storing months worth of actual texts and calls, so they need this big haystack to determine which quarter million numbers to bug and intercept all calls/texts to/from to form the smaller haystack.

      If you think that's too broad a net and they'll probably miss the next 9/11 because they'll have too many suspects and too much data, I'd heartily agree with you. Bugging everyone with two degrees of contact separation from the thousands of tier one terrorist suspects is a fool's errand.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A weaker system

        "Even the NSA's new billion dollar datacenter couldn't come within three orders of magnitude of storing months worth of actual texts and calls"

        It easily could.

        A single 5TB drive could store an hours' worth of speech a day for 1.3 million people (8kbips sampling). Or 200 disks for the whole US population per day. That probably fits in a single rack or two. Texts could all fit on a usb stick.

        I'm sure they have plenty of room in their data centers for 1000's of such disks.

        1. elDog

          Re: A weaker system

          You're spot on. And don't worry, they aren't storing MP3s. That huge complex in Utah (and Fort Meade, elsewhere) is analyzing the speech, pictures, etc. and rendering machine-friendly-for-harvesting representations of the information. This is what google voice has done for a while also.

          So if some lackey from the govt says "we don't collect voice records" it just means that the waveforms have been rendered into something much more analyzable.

        2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: A weaker system

          "A single 5TB drive could store an hours' worth of speech a day for 1.3 million people (8kbips sampling)."

          More, if you use AMR instead of MP3...

      2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: A weaker system

        "The telcos aren't keeping what you're saying, just the info on what numbers you called."

        Metadata is data!

    3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      @GH1618

      You're a bad person. I will fight you and everyone who believes as you do with every ounce of my being until the day I die.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OK

    And who is going to make sure Uncle Sam's intelligence agencies change their evil ways?

    Anyone?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: OK

      In the fullness of time? Probably the second amendment nutters who, as it is turning out, may be a hell of a lot less nutty than we think.

      What the fuck world have we created?

  5. Schultz

    "collect" – apparently to the intelligence community, it means storing data but not looking at it

    I think they already got your brains with their newspeak. As I understand the issue, the sentence should be:

    "collect" – apparently to the intelligence community, it means collecting and looking at data. Merely collecting the data does not count if no human eyes looked at it. There are probably other logical AND conditions that they don't yet talk about (it doesn't count if the data come from a different postal code, the looked-at data must be on the screen for at least 1.5 minutes in the same format and order it was collected in, three colleagues must bear witness that the data was looked at, ...) .

    Or maybe you got it right and they redefine the data as uncollected if it was looked at?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: "collect" –

      "collect" – apparently to the intelligence community, it means collecting and looking at data. Merely collecting the data does not count if no human eyes looked at it. There are probably other logical AND conditions that they don't yet talk about (it doesn't count if the data come from a different postal code, the looked-at data must be on the screen for at least 1.5 minutes in the same format and order it was collected in, three colleagues must bear witness that the data was looked at, ...) ."

      Exactly.

      I like to think of it as the "Matt Bryant" defense.

      Stank then. Stinks now.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: "collect" –

        John,

        You owe some of us a new keyboard for that one.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Happy

          @Mark 85

          Sometimes the simplest ones are the best.

      2. Bernard M. Orwell

        Re: "collect" –

        You notice how quiet MB has been on this subject and related items lately?

        Perhaps he's finally realised that his argument, of how everything that the Gov(s) have done is all good and legal and fair and honest, has all been "male bovine" all along?

        We can but hope that enlightenment has dawned.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Re: "collect" –

          "You notice how quiet MB has been on this subject and related items lately?"

          I'm not sure I've seen him anywhere.

          "Perhaps he's finally realised that his argument, of how everything that the Gov(s) have done is all good and legal and fair and honest, has all been "male bovine" all along?"

          I wouldn't bet on it.

          He always came across as someone who was very confident of his opinions, basically because he held them. QED they were the correct ones. I also got the sense of a snout firmly in the government trough.

          1. Bernard M. Orwell

            Re: "collect" –

            Nah, he's here. Posted in the EMC/HP thread within the last 30 minutes. Several posts on other threads over the last 10 days.

            I think he knows which way the wind is blowing.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As Ive said before

    If you arent doing anything wrong you dont have anything to worry about - I havent got an issue with the NSA or MI-whatever slurping any data related to me as Im not engaged in anything illegal.

    For those who are engaged in illegal activities it might be worht the rest of us bearing in mind how some of the plots of recent years have been foiled. If you really do value your security then im afraid this sort of thing is necessary and I cannot understand why anybody rational would not support it as long as its properly controlled, which it now appears to be.

    1. auburnman

      Re: As Ive said before

      "If you arent [sic] doing anything wrong you dont[sic] have anything to worry about - I havent[sic] got an issue with the NSA or MI-whatever slurping any data related to me as Im [sic] not engaged in anything illegal."

      Yes you are, you just don't know it. There are so many laws on the books across the world that someone somewhere can get you for something. That's why it's important that the authorities don't have detailed records on everyone, otherwise an agent with authority (a human being like anyone else) can decide to go through your history to try and make your life hell if they take a dislike to you.

      "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."*

      *Give me his browser history and he is totally fucked.

    2. fruitoftheloon
      Stop

      @R69: Re: As Ive said before

      R69,

      Quite, but for a given definition of controlled eh?

      A pertinent example from not that long ago, my mother-in-laws family (along with most of the populace) filled in the census info as required by the democratically elected government.

      They valued their security, prosperity and good neighbours, and their religious heritage too...

      A few years later, virtually all of the family were murdered in gas chambers.

      I am fairly sure that nothing like that is going to happen in the USA or UK anytime soon, but be careful what you wish for eh???

      Food for thought.

      J.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        @fruitoftheloon

        "I am fairly sure that nothing like that is going to happen in the USA or UK anytime soon, but be careful what you wish for eh???

        Food for thought."

        3 points you might like to keep in mind.

        The last 2 UK censuses were not down to the "house" level, but the individual person.

        The data was processed by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, so would be subject to THE PATRIOT Act.

        The data is neutral. But once it's collected what are the limits on what it's used for?

        1. fruitoftheloon
          Thumb Up

          @John Smith Re: @fruitoftheloon

          John,

          You are quite right, which is why I said 'Fairly sure'.

          Regards,

          J.

        2. Old Handle

          Re: @fruitoftheloon

          I believe the US also used census records in rounding up and imprisoning innocent Japanese people (many of them US citizens) around the same time. Better than being gassed, to be sure, but not exactly a pound moment in our history.

          I'd like to think nothing similar could happen again, but you never know.

          1. Bill Stewart

            Re: @fruitoftheloon

            That's correct. US law says that census records are sealed for 75 years (length of time might have been different back then), and only summary information is available before that, not individual records, but the Army used them anyway to find the names and addresses of Japanese-sounding people in the US and put them in the relocation camps.

            Even for non-illegal uses of census records, there's also the problem of 75-year-old records revealing your mother's maiden name, and for supposedly summary-only data revealing that the number of people in your census tract with a husband of Mexican origin, wife Guatemalan, and three kids is exactly 1, and the US census forms obsess about detail for anybody Hispanic, unlike those of us with Anglo or Celtic origin.

      2. Dan Paul

        Re: @R69: As Ive said before

        That's also why people will not register their guns. When the Nazis took power, they took the guns too.

        Great way to "pacify" the populace.

    3. GH1618

      Re: As Ive said before

      Exactly. For all the talk about the NSA database, I've never heard of any innocent person being the slightest bit harmed by any use of it. Its supposed dangers are entirely hypothetical, whereas the dangers posed by criminal conspiracies which might be tracked through such a database are demonstrably real.

      1. fruitoftheloon
        Stop

        @GH1618: Re: As Ive said before

        Gh,

        Right, let me get this right.

        Because you haven't heard of any government agency using their legal/illegally intel on anyone, that means everything is just dandy?

        A couple of points to consider (and please share your thoughts on them):

        - if (insert name of agency) had used their info to 'influence' someones decision making (or blackmail them), the agency or individual are fairly unlikely to take an ad out in the press to tell us or scribble about it on their blog dontcha think?

        - if an agency did use the gathered info (heaven forbid), wouldn't it diminish their (rightfully) stealth capabilities if EVERYONE NEW ABOUT IT??? Which may explain why they are all a tad miffed about Mr Snowden

        - Regardless of what laws are enacted in (insert name of country), how can Joe or Jane Doe actually check what info agencies are gathering on themselves and keep an eyeball on who they share it with and what they do with it?

        A final question for you: do you 100% trust the relevant agencies to never share info about you, your sexual proclivities, gambling/drinking habits, the not so good bits of your work history, who you may owe money or a favour to WITH ANYONE THEY F'ING WELL LIKE IF IT SUITS THEM??

        Because I sure as hell don't, and I never will...

        Thanks for contributing btw.

        Regards,

        Jay

      2. Bernard M. Orwell

        Re: As Ive said before

        " I've never heard of any innocent person being the slightest bit harmed by any use of it"

        I'd like you to do a search for "Extraordinary Rendition". After that, please read about a place called Gauntanamo, with a specific eye on the nature of the interns, their legal rights and, most importantly, what they have been charged with. It is reasonable to assume that NSA data collection was responsible for a proportion of those activities.

      3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: As Ive said before

        "For all the talk about the NSA database, I've never heard of any innocent person being the slightest bit harmed by any use of it. Its supposed dangers are entirely hypothetical, whereas the dangers posed by criminal conspiracies which might be tracked through such a database are demonstrably real."

        I've been harmed by the NSA database. So fuck you.

        And there are lots of "criminals" who haven't harmed anyone. Providing a perfectly harmless (when used appropriately, in moderation) substance such as marijuana, or engaging in sodomy, being gay, being a hardworking illegal immigrant...the list of people who have broken laws but ultimate been a benefit to society is huge.

        Being a criminal emphatically does not mean you harm anyone. Some criminals do. Most criminals don't.

        The law has long ago become not about protecting the citizens, but protecting those in power from the loss of their power, and/or imposing the paranoid morality of the crazy few upon all. Full stop.

    4. Hero Protagonist

      Re: As Ive said before

      As Edward Snowden recently said, "Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say,"

      1. GH1618

        Re: As Ive said before

        "As Edward ... "

        That's a fallacious analogy, but Snowden is not philosopher-in-exile, he's just a spy on the lam.

        1. fruitoftheloon
          FAIL

          @GH1618: Re: As Ive said before

          Gh,

          You are a plonker of the first order!!!!

          J.

        2. Bernard M. Orwell

          Re: As Ive said before

          Please prove the fallacy.

    5. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      "If you arent doing anything wrong you dont have anything to worry about"

      Hands up, don't shoo- *blam*

      *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam* *blam*

      All lives matter.

  7. Truffle

    One 'accidental' lapse and its "I told you so"

    This is but a short lived 'victory'.

    In a few months, maybe a year or two to be sure, there will be an act of 'terrorism' that will slip past the NSA and FBI 'Accidentally'.

    An investigation will take place and it will be found that the alphabet agencies were unable to stop the event because they came up on a brick wall when trying to collect the required data.

    Cue "we told you so" and the allowance of even greater surveillance, all in the name of protecting peoples freedoms.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Gimp

      Re: One 'accidental' lapse and its "I told you so"

      "This is but a short lived 'victory'."

      Which is why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance

      Against state sponsored surveillance and warrant less data viewing.

      Data fetishism is a disease, not a rational policy.

    2. elDog

      Re: One 'accidental' lapse and its "I told you so"

      Surely none of us would think that there was a conspiracy between some forces in some governments to bring down a couple of towers to promote some escalation of some powers?

      Jeez - where will this end? Seriously.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Won't make any difference

    My current conspiracy theory is that this has "been allowed" to occur because, with the recent changes to Law in Australia, the NSA will just get GCHQ and ASIO to collect the data for them.

    Much as I'd like to think that the change in the US could cause a change in UK and Australian Law I'm not holding my breath.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's very unfortunate that...

    ...the populace is so clueless. Now more crims will escape punishment because authorities will not know about them until after they impose their evil. If you're a crim this is your lucky day. Ignorance really is bliss for many.

    1. fruitoftheloon
      WTF?

      @Ac: Re: It's very unfortunate that...

      Dear Ac,

      The bits of your post that instantly stuck in my memory are: clueless, ignorance and bliss...

      Do you seriously believe that the NSA (or whatever agency), if they get a whiff of a 'non-terrorist-esque' planned actual crime actually pick up the jellybone and call the relevant sheriff so that he/she can miraculously 'prevent' it happening?

      If you do believe that then I really want some of what you are smoking...

      Regards,

      Jay

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: @Ac: It's very unfortunate that...

        "The bits of your post that instantly stuck in my memory are: clueless, ignorance and bliss..."

        You missed the irony about them posting AC while supporting state surveillance in the first place.

        "Do you seriously believe that the NSA (or whatever agency), if they get a whiff of a 'non-terrorist-esque' planned actual crime actually pick up the jellybone and call the relevant sheriff so that he/she can miraculously 'prevent' it happening?"

        Actually where the DEA were concerned they did, as some of the Snowden documents show. Unfortunately that meant the DEA had to falsify the source. Which has given them some issue with some of the convictions.

        So just to be clear with complete access to all US phone records (and IIRC conversations on demand) the DEA still could not win "The War on Drugs" (TM).

        Total surveillance to end all crime.

        I think not.

        1. fruitoftheloon
          Pint

          @John Smith: Re: @Ac: It's very unfortunate that...

          John,

          Right again, methinks I missed that due to my 'wtf' quotient going off of the scale at the time, plus I had some plaster to get on the wall sharpish...

          I did recall the DEA example you mentioned, but sought to make a more mundane day-to-day example.

          I believe that the only guaranteed outcome of the whole '1984' surveillance thing is that lots of taxpayers dollars/sterling ends up in the pockets of very few companies which means we are paying more in tax than needs be for f'all tangible benefit, and the agencies recruit even more (un)civil servants.

          Have one on me.

          Cheers,

          jay

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: It's very unfortunate that...

      Have a downvote... you missed using the word "sheeple".

    3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: It's very unfortunate that...

      "Now more crims will escape punishment because authorities will not know about them until after they impose their evil"

      Most criminals are good people. Many of them are better in most ways than huge numbers of people who have yet to be identified as having broken the law.

      The law isn't about good and evil. It's about power and control.

      1. Bernard M. Orwell

        Re: It's very unfortunate that...

        "Now more crims will escape punishment because authorities will not know about them until after they impose their evil"

        You know, there's a word for people before they actually commit a crime: Innocent.

  10. PapaD

    If you have nothing to hide

    I think people who honestly believe that 'if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear' have absolutely no understanding of the word privacy.

    I've not done anything illegal, however, I'd very much like to have a shower without someone unknown to me watching, I'd also like to talk to my doctor about my medical conditions without anyone who doesn't need the information knowing.

    Neither of these acts are criminal, but in a world where mass surveillance is normal, how long before every action we take is monitored. Privacy isn't about needing to hide illegal things, its about wanting to hide personal things.

    (Or, if you have nothing to hide, thus nothing to fear, can I take a photograph of your genitalia and stick it on the internet with identifying details - also, can I listen to your private conversations with your partner about what you'd like to do to them in bed, and broadcast them on the radio? - No, why not, nothing to hide after all)

  11. elDog

    You just have to weep for the turtle.

    It will be so nice not to see his face (or Orangeman Boner) in the news anymore.

    Course, there aren't many good looking sexy pols. Perhaps we should be able to vote based on dimensions, nude shots, dumbness (no, we already have that.)

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    That Mitch McConnell picture

    What has been inserted into which body cavity do you think?

    Don't know, but it looks nasty.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank you, Edward.

    Thank you, The Register, for publishing this honest article. And, thank you, Edward Snowden for speaking up.

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