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article imageOp-Ed: Feinstein NSA bill competes with Freedom Act

By Ken Hanly     Nov 9, 2013 in Politics
Washington - Although Congress members have introduced almost 30 different bills to reform and restrict National Security Agency spying, there are two bills that have the most momentum.
The two front-runners are quite different, with one bill for the most part carrying on with the status quo and even extend NSA powers while the other places considerable restrictions on NSA.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the very group that is charged with oversight of NSA programs approved legislation that would continue the current spying programs and give them explicit Congressional authorization to do so. The Committee is chaired by California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who having earlier voiced a rare criticism of NASA is now sponsoring a bill that would actually confirm the validity of what is happening and even extend it.
Feinstein had called for a complete review in her critical remarks: Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) .. called for a “total review” of all intelligence collection programs as she criticized the National Security Agency for spying on foreign leaders.
However the legislation passed by her group, The FISA Improvement Act, would allow NSA collection of communications by phone, email, and internet data without any grounds for suspicion or need for a warrant, using rules already in place. The bill is also silent on other modes of communication in effect passively condoning collection of this data as well. As a Guardian article puts it: For the first time in history, Congress would explicitly and intentionally authorize dragnet domestic spying programs targeting every day Americans.
Feinstein's bill even gives the NSA more powers. For example, without even approval from the attorney general as is required now, NSA will have a 72-hour grace period to spy on foreigners who enter the US. The bill also states that no provisions in the law should prevent law enforcement agencies from mining the massive NSA databases for criminal activity. Although the bill allows members of Congress to access important FISA court orders, it then curtails this right by keeping the current rules and practices that have been employed to prevent this access. This would prevent members from accessing information that could help inform members whether changes need to be made.
While the Obama government campaigns on accountability and openness, in actual practice it wants to prevent the existence of an informed public or even members of Congress. Edward Snowden whose revelations prompted this entire review will not be granted any clemency from the White House for his services in providing information about probably illegal and certainly immoral spying by NSA. Instead, we have a bill such as that of Feinstein that ensures the status quo is made legal.
Ironically the other main competitor, the USA Freedom Act, is being promoted by Representative James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who is conservative and a co-author of the Patriot Act. His cosponsor is Senator Patrick Leahy a Democrat from Vermont. The bill comes from the House and Senate Judiciary Committee. It has already gained the support of more than 100 members of Congress.
The Freedom Act would begin to curtail NSA dragnet programs through a ban on the suspicionless collection of American's telephone communications and it would also ban the extension of spying to collection of bulk data from other forms of communications by using national security letters, or pen registers. The USA Freedom Act would also require court approval before the government could mine data collected on US persons through the authority of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.
The present very restrictive gag orders on the FISA court orders would be eased. Companies would be able to provide basic information to customers and the public as to what FSA was doing.
The Guardian notes that the choice is not really between two reform bills since Feinstein's actually a step backward. The Guardian article concludes: Americans have the right to be left alone unless suspected of wrongdoing. Rep Sensenbrenner and Senator Leahy understand this simple and revered American ideal; Senator Feinstein does not. There's only one way forward that will protect privacy: the USA Freedom Act, and Congress needs to act on it immediately.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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