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Article posted Sep 13 2012, 1:20 AM Category: Big Brother/Orwellian Source: Techdirt Print

House Approves Rep. Lamar Smith's Bill To Keep Spying On Americans

by Mike Masnick

As was expected, despite not knowing the details of how the feds interpret the FISA Amendmens Act, which grants massive spying and surveillance power to the feds -- in fact, while proactively stopping any efforts to find out more about the interpretation, the House of Representatives today approved Lamar Smith's FISA Amendment's Act by a vote of 301-118. You can see which representatives voted which way at that link. The bill would extend the current rules (and the secret interpretation) for another five years. Republicans, who are supposedly against bigger government, only had 7 members vote no, while the remaining 111 no votes came from Democrats.

There had been an attempt to introduce amendments, but that was shot down procedurally. And an hour debate did little to get to the heart of the matter. Rep. Zoe Lofgren fought the good fight, pointing out that "I think the government needs to comply with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution all the time... We can be safe while still complying with the Constitution of the United States." However, Rep. Dan Lungren -- who previously had insisted that there was no evidence that the NSA was abusing its powers, while refusing to even ask the NSA for basic info on how it was using the powers -- insisted based on absolutely nothing that "this is critical to the protection of the American people."

Even worse, Rep. Terry Gowdy made a ridiculously ignorant statement in response to Lofgren's highlighting of the 4th Amendment:
”Intelligence is the lifeblood of our ability to defend ourselves,” he said. Moments later, he added: “Are we to believe that the Fourth Amendment applies to the entire world?”
But, uh, the concern isn't with the rest of the world. Even without the FISA Amendments Act, the NSA already had the right to seek info on foreign communications. They have no 4th Amendment rights, so that's not even an issue. The issue is that the FISA Amendments Act appears to include some weasel words that have been twisted by the government to suggest that it can spy on Americans too. But Gowdy misleads the public by pretending, falsely, that this is about foreigners? It's not. Has he asked the NSA how many Americans it's spied on? Even the NSA has admitted that it's violated the 4th Amendment under the act in spying on Americans... but Gowdy pretends this is just about foreigners? How do you stand up and call yourself a "Representative" when you can't even get the very basics right?

Of course, House approval is just one step. The Senate version remains on hold thanks to Senator Wyden, who is one of the only elected officials who is actually asking the NSA and the Obama administration to (a) reveal the secret interpretation and (b) disclose how many Americans are being spied on under the rule.

As Julian Sanchez explained recently a former DOJ official has basically revealed part of the secret interpretation, which more or less says that if the target is al Qaeda, then anything goes:
For example, an authorization targeting “al Qaeda”—which is a non-U.S. person located abroad—could allow the government to wiretap any telephone that it believes will yield information from or about al Qaeda, either because the telephone is registered to a person whom the government believes is affiliated with al Qaeda, or because the government believes that the person communicates with others who are affiliated with al Qaeda, regardless of the location of the telephone.
Take that and expand it, and you've basically given the feds and the NSA a blank slate to spy on Americans by claiming that if it believes the spying will yield information about a threat, then it's fine. And our "Representatives" are standing up and -- either through ignorance or straight-up dishonesty -- are pretending that this is about spying on foreigners only. Shameful.

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