back to article Congress calls for change to NSA spying law

The legal justification for the NSA to tap the internet's backbone was put on the table Tuesday in a hearing of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, with some senators vowing to add privacy protections to the law as expert witnesses noted the FBI was likely reading the love letters of US citizens rather than tracking down …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    'no one has "ever found any instance of an intentional violation of the law."'

    That sounds to be right out of Sir Humphrey Appleby's Public Enquiries for Dummies. Public enquiries are, of course, set up to accumulate a mass of non-evidence.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Intentional violations of the law are still violations, Shirley?

      Why not arrest a spook or two, put them up in front of a judge and see whether that defense flies.

      I'm pretty sure that'll never happen.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That one made my brain hurt.

    3. AustinTX

      'no one has "ever demonstrated that a terrorist attack was stopped through Internet monitoring"'

      Yah, sure they SAY there were those, uhm, 3-4 instances. They didn't say what they were, though. And they had to walk back that count, too.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No one has....'ever found any instance of an intentional violation of the law'

      * They f'ing have in Brazil, Mexico & Germany etc, and that's just a 2-second answer which doesn't factor in foreign companies who've been outbid by US corps with NSA contacts (contracts worth 200m+ etc).... Let also forget about all the UN & Diplomatic officials who've been spied upon for years.

      * The fact that we all know this, but the mass media relentlessly fails to quiz the spying elites about it, just goes to show how complicit they are in this circus.... (They're there to help 'Manufacture Consent'..)

      * None of this matters of course because we're just sheep. That's what they said after Snowden... But hey, this animal chooses to actively avoid US products. Same for others in my circle. This abuse has hurt the US, just not in a way they're likely to perceive, because they're 'the best' man!

  2. Mike 16 Silver badge

    How many spied on?

    According to Clapper, very few.

    After all, it's not really spying until we click on those files.

    (yeah, both of those are lies, but ones Clapper has used before)

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: How many spied on?

      Well, I guess the answer is variable as the population fluctuates daily due to birth, death, and immigration.

      The real trick is they can suck up and store all they want, it's the analysis that has to be a problem. How the hell do you analyze all the internet useage of around 300 million people? Yeah.. some are too young or too old to play on the Internet, but still.... I suspect that a lot of this is "CYA" so they can say "we knew about them".

      Personally, I believe a more targeted approach than a mass sweep that never gets looked at. There's too many abuses that can be done with the mass approach.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: How many spied on?

        -so they can say "we knew about them".-

        Oh, you forgot the second half of that; "If we'd had more funding and powers, we could have stopped them!"

        It's the same refrain they've been singing since 911. I'd think that by now, even the the most clueless of Congress would be realizing they've heard this song before.

  3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Feral Stupidity

    The ferals have not learned that mass surveillance is a waste of time and effort. They need to learn traffic analysis and they might actually do some good. But given the ferals are more interested in playing Stasi than actually doing something useful they will lie about the effectiveness of their mass surveillance.

  4. Sureo

    Nice debate, but....

    At the end of the day, they will renew the law and allow even more surveillance.

  5. Mephistro

    Grassley (...) insisted that "the Intelligence Community have the tools to keep us safe."

    No. The "Intelligence Community" is doing a power grab and laying the foundations of a police state, and it hasn't stopped any terror attacks to date. As an example, NSA methods have already permeated the FBI and local police forces.

    If you think that you're safer living in a police state, please think again.

  6. veti Silver badge

    Once again with the "spying on citizens" meme...

    Look: citizenship is not the point. It's right there in the constitution: "... nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws".

    If a person is within your jurisdiction, they're protected by the same laws, whether they're a citizen of Kansas or Karachi. Conversely, if they're not within your jurisdiction, then they're not protected by your laws, because that's basically what "jurisdiction" means.

    No act of Congress can make it legal to spy on foreigners, without also making it legal to spy on Americans in the same circumstances. That law would be, quite simply, unconstitutional.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      The pertinent part of the fourteenth amendment, only part of which is quoted, reads

      "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

      It is primarily or exclusively a restriction of action by states, not the federal government.

      The legal constraints on "spying" on persons within US jurisdiction apply to those who are citizens (anywhere) or are present legally in the US, whether as immigrants or visitors. It would be interesting to see whether an illegal alien could win a case on a claim of surveillance unconstitutional under the fourteenth amendment, say by arguing successfully that evidence collected could not be used in a trial. The fourth amendment, which also covers "people" without reference to citizenship, probably would be a better choice, although law enforcement officials probably obtain warrants as a standard practice in nearly all cases anyhow.

      Signals intelligence is a bit weird, because it is not always possible to ascertain the communicants' citizenship or location, and also because capturing the communications that are wanted will very often necessitate capturing and discarding a much larger volume of communications that are not wanted. That is true for capture of radio transmissions (which still continues) and it is true for capture of internet data communication. It is a matter of opinion to what degree the mechanically necessary capturing and discarding constitutes surveillance, as it also is a matter of opinion whether even maintaining a database of all domestic telephone metadata constitutes surveillance of all. It might actually matter whether it is looked at and if so what legal process stands in the way.

      1. Schultz

        Simple solution, move the NSA out of the States

        "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

        So why don't they create a new or move the existing NSA in a territory that is not a US state? I heard Puerto Rico is looking for somebody to rent the place. Win-win, isn't it?

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: Simple solution, move the NSA out of the States

          Take it one step further - outsource everything! There are a lot of skilled, experienced organisations that could do the same work for a fraction of the current budget. Just think of all the money that could be saved an funnelled into badly needed tax cuts for the rich, because trickle down economy!

    2. AustinTX

      Even as a kid, I wondered why the rules were different for foreigners than it was for us. I mean, sure I understand that a visiting foreigner isn't entitled to request welfare and such, but then, our government was always so very eager to dispatch them without employing the time-honored system of justice we supposedly feel is superior to that of the rest of the world.

      It seemed like the gov held an actual grudge against the American way of life and liberty, since they would circumvent it at any opportunity. The government demonstrates that it would prefer not to follow these laws, you see. In their heart of hearts, they don't feel it's the best way to do things. This is critically dangerous.

      As a teen then, it was little surprise to learn that the USA keeps prisons and torture facilities in foreign countries on the theory that they're then not bound to follow our laws there. It seems that when one of our agents or officers steps off USA soil, they shrug of all of the laws of our land, except those which please them.

  7. tom dial Silver badge

    "This program does not just target terrorists. It targets anyone with foreign intelligence value. It could be a completely innocent businessman or anyone else out of the country who has that information."

    Well, of course. The purpose of foreign intelligence agencies is to conduct foreign intelligence activities. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed in 1978, close to forty years ago and more than twenty years before September 11, 2001. The purpose, in part, was to codify the limits to acceptable foreign intelligence activities. The legal limitations enacted in the FISA, and the laterFISA Amendments Act, were aimed primarily at restricting impact of foreign intelligence activities on US citizens and US legal residents while permitting, as the laws of other nations do, much less restraint on activities that target those who are neither citizens nor legal residents. Terrorism as a significant international concern arose considerably later and represents only a part, probably a small part, of the activity of US foreign intelligence agencies; that that probably is true of most other nations' foreign intelligence agencies as well.

    1. Alister

      Terrorism as a significant international American concern arose considerably later


      Internationally, terrorism was very much a concern from the late 60s onwards, particularly in Europe, it just took the US a while to catch up.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    known terrorist?

    That is a vague term, especially when any american in government says it. This is the second phase of introducing a nebulous word to describe something specific.

    1) What is a terrorist - anyone we say so.

    2) How do we know they are a terrorist - we just told you, therefore they're known.

  9. Winkypop Silver badge

    As I say to the wife: "You don't need to know"

    Yeah, it doesn't fly with her either...

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Funny Grassley didn't mention the Boston Marathon bombing in his little list of terror attacks

    Oh wait

    That would have been one where they had all that surveillance in place.

    But did nothing.

  11. scrubber


    That's all well and good, but until people high up the food chain start going to jail for these blatant constitutional abuses then this is nothing more than a temporary reprieve on the road to the panopticon.

    "Grassley on the other hand referred to recent atrocities including the Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino shootings and insisted that "the Intelligence Community have the tools to keep us safe.""

    So the Intelligence Community's recent abject failures to keep "us" safe is given as evidence of why they have to be allowed to keep breaking the law? That is some level 10 spinning right there.

  12. AdamG57


    Hmm, should it be the Director, Gibbs, or Abby (and often Tim) who should be sent to jail? Leaving aside the supposedly Naval jurisdiction, we all know this 'not the FBI but we do have armed SWAT teams' uses plots where they intrepidly and regularly hack databases, phones, and computers whether private, State level, or even Federal systems in violation of the law they exist to uphold so stirringly? (Yes, this applies to pretty much to any similar fictional media...).

    I am a bit conflicted, surely all should go to jail and many villains should be freed, but the Director may have plausible deniability (assuming Tim and Abby are doctoring the logs); Gibbs is the hero, and Abby (and to some extent dim Tim) are so cute and well-meaning and transparent...

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