back to article Wonder why Congress doesn't clamp down on its gung-ho spies? Well, wonder no more

When Edward Snowden revealed the extent of illegal operations carried out by American spy agencies, many wondered whether the US Congress was either unaware or had simply turned a blind eye toward them. Nevertheless, Congress did act, restricting some programs and declaring others illegal. Even the notoriously secretive FISA …

  1. Snowy Silver badge
    Holmes

    If I was paranoid

    [quote]Between now and the end of the year, a second critical battle between the spy agencies and Congress is going to play out as the NSA and FBI desperately try to retain the ability to spy illegally on American citizens, and lawmakers assess how far they should push back and limit those actions.[/quote]

    I would say that some terrorist event is going to happen right before a vote on this?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: If I was paranoid

      If I was paranoid, I would believe the alpha-bettys are gonna spy on me anyway.

      It's just better that they know I object.

      Terrorist event?Are you suggesting another one where all the perps (who were previously known to the police/security) get shot immediatly after and one leaves his passport behind?

  2. Alister
    Headmaster

    got some much-needed sunlight shined on it.

    Shone, surely?

    1. handleoclast

      Shone

      @Alister

      It's Merkin usage. Shined instead of shone. Lighted instead of lit. Probably shited instead of shat.

      Sorta like the Scots would use Alasdair instead of Alister.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Shone

        "It's Merkin usage. Shined instead of shone."
        AKA archaic usage.

        "1586 Sidney Arcadia ii. (Sommer) 127 b, Then shined foorth indeede all loue among them."

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Shone

          You quote a 1586 example of "shined". But OED has a 1573 example of "shone". And there's a c1290 example of "schon". So it's not clear to me which form is more "archaic".

          1. Aodhhan

            Re: Shone

            Who really fricken cares? If you want to play grammar police, or show off your self-centered egotistical knowledge on something you just googled, please do it somewhere else.

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: Shone

              "Who really fricken cares? If you want to play grammar police, or show off your self-centered egotistical knowledge on something you just googled, please do it somewhere else."
              Take a look in the mirror of your bathroom cabinet. Open the door and take the pills the doctor prescribed. You apparently forgot to take them...

        2. handleoclast

          Re: Archaic Merkin

          @Pompous Git

          You are correct. Where Merkin usage differs from ours it is often because our usage changed. Where our usage changed it is often due to snobbish affectation of French usage. So we have "centre" whereas Merkins have a more sensible "center."

          Some changes are more recent. Like the use of "ise" instead of "ize." This was largely due to the dumbing down of the way English was taught in the 60s and thereafter. The last time I looked (a couple of decades ago) the OED still preferred spellings that usually matched Merkin usage rather than trendy 60s dumbed-down usage. Of course, it would be simpler if we used "s" for unvoiced and "z" for voiced sounds, although that would mean you'd encounter things like "hypothesis" and "hypothesize."

          1. Pompous Git Silver badge

            Re: Archaic Merkin

            @ handleoclast

            Mostly agree except that Australia adopted -ise rather than the Merkin -ize or the Brits' mix of -ise and -ize. So, I tend to use the Macquarie Dictionary for spelling and the OED for meaning. I don't think the compilers of the Macquarie were trying to dumb down our language; they were more concerned about consistency. And including some interesting vernacular such as "cold as a nun's cunt".

            People have a tendency to think of English as singular whereas there are several Englishes: British, American, Australian, Indian and so forth. Hence my concurring that shined is as legitimate as shone, albeit archaic in British English.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chain letter...

    Nice article. Shame it finished with a 'chain letter' style threat.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Waste, fraud and abuse

    Politicians always like to claim they'll be able to cut the budget without hurting anyone because they'll cut billions in "waste, fraud and abuse". A $50 billion budget for spy agencies that has almost no congressional oversight seems like the perfect place to start!

    1. An0n C0w4rd

      Re: Waste, fraud and abuse

      Never happen

      You know why? No politician wants to commit career suicide by voting to de-fund an agency that could prevent a terrorist attack, because if an attack happens then fingers will be pointed at the lack of funding.

      It's the same reason that after every attack legislation is almost always passed to try and prevent another attack. Not because another attack is likely using the same method (apart from the truck attacks which appear to be the new favourite), but because they have to be seen to do SOMETHING. Even if it's completely ineffective, such as most of the security theatre put in place after September 11. Or the backscatter body perv scanners that were installed after the underwear bomber, that have been proved to let stuff past if you make it look like part of your body (e.g. fake belly).

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Waste, fraud and abuse

        If the agencies have info of common citizens, imagine what they have on the CongressCritters. As I recall, Hoover had many files on various politicians for his use at budget time or any other time he needed a Congressional favor. I doubt that that particular bit of info slurping has stopped.

        Disclaimer: Wyden is from my state and I fully support what he's doing in this matter. I do fear that at some point, that someone in some agency will take personal action against him.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Waste, fraud and abuse

          Why would they take action against him? They need a few lone voices against them or it WOULD look like they are silencing/blackmailing congress to give them a blank check.

          I don't think the intelligence agencies need to lift a finger, as the other poster said politicians are too afraid of getting the blame if another 9/11 happens. So they'll continue looking for "savings" of a few million here and there in stuff like programs investigating loss of honey bees, or banning transsexuals from the military and ignore the places where real savings would be found: defense, intelligence and medicare/medicaid. You gotta go where the money is being spent to find money that should not be spent.

          Another in the long list of reasons we need a two term limit for congressmen and senators. Then half of them are not able to run again, and freed from worries about giving their opponent something to put in attack ads, they can actually do their job properly, instead of acting out of fear or cold political calculation.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Waste, fraud and abuse

            That wouldn't work, as the haters can still blackmail lame ducks. Remember, Congresspeople are NOT immune to felony charges. Furthermore, their immunity runs out along with their term, meaning lame ducks will be particularly wary of arrest threats hanging over their heads.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Waste, fraud and abuse

              I'm talking about political courage, not courage against some imagined deep state conspiracy planting evidence of sex with 12 year olds or whatever to get congressmen to vote them budget increases.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: Waste, fraud and abuse

                Both kinds of courage go hand in hand. NO ONE in my recollection WANTS a ticket to Leavenworth or whatever, not to mention the stigma such a stint (or even the threat of it) would do for everyone around him/her.

  5. An0n C0w4rd

    Can't get congress to act on reports they can't see

    One Congress-critter (can't remember whom) commented that one of the reasons that it's so difficult to get Congress to effectively review surveillance legislation is that the committees that review the secret reports cannot tell other members of Congress their contents, even in a general manner. They cannot take anything in to those briefings (so no notes or recordings), and there are never any nice handouts they can share afterwards.

    So all those closed-door committee briefings? Completely worthless. The committee cannot report on what they were told, so the other people in Congress that get to vote on the legislation don't know about any transgressions (unless a whistleblower comes forward, and we all know how that ends), and therefore cannot do anything more than rubber stamp whatever the spy agencies want

    I doubt any country is any better to be honest.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And here is where the plot thickens: Europe

    For those interested in privacy, it may be worth checking out this excellent article at the IAPP because it has a LOT of depth on the challenges to get at least SOME sort of agreement in place between the EU and the US to actually respect the privacy of those pesky foreigners, or at least their data when held by US companies. Schrems 2.0 indeed.

    The irony is that if there was at least some transparency in place it would be easier..

  7. Nick Z

    Constant war turns public opinion against democracy

    War makes people feel insecure.

    Because killing in war is seldom one-sided. The other side might be weaker, but they can still do some damage. And it's this feeling of constant insecurity that destroys people's support for democracy.

    Because according to Maslow's theory of human motivation, known as The Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, people's need for safety trumps all of their higher needs, including the needs associated with the need for freedom and democracy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

    And warning people about it won't change their opinions. Because as long as the government can make its people feel insecure by constantly waging war on others, then the people will truly feel insecure and behave accordingly. They will not support democracy.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Constant war turns public opinion against democracy

      IOW, it goes to the primal fear: the fear of not seeing tomorrow. Because it's so primal (tied to the survival instinct, one of the strongest in any beast), it overrides everything else. Who cares about freedom if I die because of it?

    2. Aodhhan

      Re: Constant war turns public opinion against democracy

      Another leftist who doesn't understand the definition of democracy.

      If the people want to allow something, no matter how odd it is to you...then this is the very definition of democracy.

      People in England allow the government to manage and record public action on video. This isn't something against democracy, it's democracy in action. The English feel it provides more security and safety than privacy. They want it... they got it... they allow it. This is Democracy in action. You may not like it; you may think it's crazy. This doesn't change the fact it's still democracy at work.

      Tracking/monitoring/recording is a two way thing. It can prove ones guilt, but it can also prove an individual's innocence. We've also learned, people today aren't as embarrassed about their actions as they once were [thank goodness].

      I'm betting you don't really understand the definition of fascism either.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Constant war turns public opinion against democracy

        The problem is that, in a pure democracy, one can vote one's rights away. As in, Hitler was elected. Furthermore, there's the perennial problem of stupid, which can have knock-on effects to the non-stupid, especially versus an evil but charismatic politician.

  8. ckm5

    My "representatives"* are Pelosi & Feinstein

    And they have already decided that "intelligence agencies" should put cameras & microphones in every single house in the country for "national security" reasons. /s

    Short of a revolution, nothing is going to change if the two representatives from the most liberal place in the country are all for surveillance....

    * representative is a word to be used only loosely, it's been a long time since either party has actually represented anyone not giving them $$$

    1. Aodhhan

      Re: My "representatives"* are Pelosi & Feinstein

      These sort of intel operations are funded through an entirely different part of Title X (ten) where Congress can't really interfere with it. They set this up by law a very long time ago; and explaining it is a long and boring ordeal.

      The problem isn't with the operational laws or funding... they are fine. The problem is the accountability of officials who misuse/abuse the information. There needs to be strict roles and responsibilities along with black/white consequences.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: My "representatives"* are Pelosi & Feinstein

        You can't do black and white because you then get into the thorny issue of who draws the line. That's why we frown on such things as absolute law. Plus the world is infinite shades of gray, and an edge case can still have tragic consequences.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    [quote]So if you have read this article to this point but do not contact your Congressional representatives and complain about it to them – this month – then you need to accept that you have forfeited your right to complain about government surveillance now and into the future.[/quote]

    Well, I did my part as a resident of these less-than-free shores and contacted my duly elected "representatives". Not sure if it'll have any effect; they never respond...

    Anonymous because I enjoy making the tracking just a wee bit harder!

  10. Wolfclaw

    The US should just scrap the senate and let the <insert 3 letter acronyms> run the country, if they aren't already, through dodgy deals and knowing what is each senators skeleton closet !

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    Remember people "Cynicism is the easiest political view to adopt"

    It demands you do nothing.

    And I think we all know how good most people are at doing that.

    As long as you believe you can do nothing, you will not try to do anything.

    Which suits these people just find.

    IOW US Readers. Contact your Senators and Congressman. Put section 702 on the extinction list. Remind them that if they have had contact, by phone, email or internet with at least one foreign entity they are probably on that database as well, and remember the NSA cannot even tell Congress how big it is.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Remember people "Cynicism is the easiest political view to adopt"

      And if they counter with a bunch of threats of felony charges (to which Congress is NOT immune)?

  12. Tree
    Black Helicopters

    If it is in a database, they already have it

    Whether it is in your Equine-fux credit report or your child's report card, it is already known to your government masters and probably their enemy's files include it as well. All your Face-butt walls and comments, all your Gurgle searches and Gmail entries are also "out there" to be slurped by NSA, the Chi-coms, GHQ and the Russian FSB. Like Clapper, they all lie about having this.

    What to do? You can 1) stop all this email and social media stuff amd disconnect or 2) enter multiple totally new and different identities for yourself to confuse the snoopers. In other words, deny them the data or put out an overwhelming amount of crap.

  13. Sanguma

    Interesting that we've seen the consequences of this data grabbag already - how many employees of which US Fe[de]ral Agency/ies had their employment data leaked recently?

    Just imagine - these US Fe[de]ral "Intelligence" Agencies are storing a pack of data about as many people as they can. They are also suspected of having bad data hygiene including of course the inevitable lax[ative] security. And no doubt a good many of these data will contain links to financial matters.

    Anyone remember how The Culture wins in Consider Phlebas? Thei Minds winkled a path through the Idiran computer security, and turned the Idiran computer complex, making it in effect another Culture Mind.

    So you have these huge insecure databases of nearly everyone with more than a little bit of money. You have opponents who can do their times tables. You have Check Mate before you're even aware of it.

    If I were a Patriotick US Citizen I'd demand these "Intelligence" Agency folk shoot themselves in the head with dumdums. And even then I'd expect a 100% failure rate, with dumdum rounds mysteriously appearing on the foot. Unfired.

  14. Vic Sub
    Unhappy

    Ouch!

    "So if you have read this article to this point but do not contact your Congressional representatives and complain about it to them – this month – then you need to accept that you have forfeited your right to complain about government surveillance now and into the future."

    Fine, I'll contact them....

    Kudos on the guilt trip!

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