Sanders Proposes Limits on Surveillance

WASHINGTON, June 14 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation to put strict limits on sweeping powers used by the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly track telephone calls by millions of innocent Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

“We must give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies all of the tools that they need to combat terrorism but we must do so in a way that protects our freedom and respects the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches,” Sanders said.

The legislation filed late yesterday would put limits on records that may be searched. Authorities would be required to establish a reasonable suspicion, based on specific information, in order to secure court approval to monitor business records related to a specific terrorism suspect.

Sanders’ bill would put an end to open-ended court orders that have resulted in wholesale data mining by the NSA and FBI. Instead, the government would be required to provide reasonable suspicion to justify searches for each record or document that it wants to examine.

The measure would eliminate a presumption in current law that anyone “known to” a suspect is relevant to the investigation. It also would increase congressional oversight by requiring the attorney general to provide reports to all members of Congress, not only members of the judiciary and intelligence committees.

The legislation to amend a provision in the so-called USA Patriot Act was prompted by disclosures in The Guardian and The Washington Post that a massive surveillance program relied on an expansive interpretation of that law to justify what had been secret court orders authorizing wholesale surveillance of telephone and Internet records.

Sanders voted against the law when it was first enacted in 2001 and when it was reauthorized in 2006 and 2011.

To read the bill (S. 1168), click here.

Contact: Michael Briggs (202) 224-5141


Comments | 6

  • Fevered Thoughts

    Watching the Senators leave their secret meeting yesterday, I was struck by how few of them, I’m guessing, would be able to tell you how to read an email header, tell you how packets move about a netwrok, how data is written to a hard drive, or describe simple computing operations. Some probably need help using their phones.

    Feinstein was asked if querying the phone data required a court order. She said she didn’t understand what “query” meant. When it was explained to her, she said they could query it without a court order.

    It would be comical if not so pathetic. Most were trying to say it’s no big deal and they can’t really use it, but also that it is critical to stopping terrorists.

    One said all that was collected was durations of calls and no numbers were connected. Another said it was names and phone numbers. While they couldn’t agree on what they had just been told to tell us, they did agree that Snowden was a dropout, a punk, his mother wears Army boots, he’s smelly and ugly, he might be a spy for China, etc. In other words, smear him! One Senator encouraged a reporter to run with the spying for China crap: “I didn’t say it… but you did!”

    The politicians and agency personnel accused are not the proper ones to be investigating this. They are untrustworthy on the matter and unqualified. Of course the Senate Intelligence Committee will find things to be AOK.

    What is needed is an outside group with technical expertise to look at these systems and give their opinion. I suggest teams of students from MIT and Stanford look at the programs, the data, and their interconnections and offer up a report.

    Perhaps they could ask some simple questions:

    – What other “business records” data is being collected?
    – Are TSA airport scans considered a “business record”?
    – How many other programs beside PRISM are there. Got one for all store purchase records, too?
    – Are non-human entities (crawlers, bots, etc.) subject to the same laws as humans?
    – Can the bots crawl the data and create new summary reports that do not require court orders to view?
    – A few years ago a whistleblower said profiling software he wrote to spy on Russia had been turned on Americans. Are the business records being accumulated being used to create profiles? What kind of profiles?
    – How is artificial intelligence being applied to the pools of data?
    – Why are you keeping this information forever?

    I know quite a few qualified tech folks that I would trust to evaluate and report back. I’d trust them far more than the nervous looking politicians I saw on CSPAN.

    One final thought. Pavlovian words. Terrorism and Safety. Ring those bells and we salivate.

    People need to start realizing that terrorism really isn’t the threat it is made out to be.

    More people are killed slipping in the shower. What if, for safety, we install cameras in all showers and let a government agency watch over us to keep us safe. Then when we slip and fall, they’ll be able to analyze why and how it happened. For safety.

    • Comparing the effects of a

      Comparing the effects of a terrorist act and an accident in the home, slipping on soap in the shower, is like weighing the differences between an apple and a kitten.

      More people are also killed in car accidents so why don’t we install cameras at traffic lights and make people get drivers licenses and register car ownerships . . . oh, yeah, that’s right, we do.

      • Uh, no

        That is intentionally misstating my point, and I never said a terrorist act is the same as an accident in the home. (You did, to debate some other point.)

        I’m saying we can usually draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable government action – until the word terrorist is used. Then we do whatever someone else tells us to do. And that’s dumb.

        If x = home safety, then no you can’t monitor me in the shower. We have laws.
        If x = terrorist, then whatever. Take pictures of me naked in the shower if will help.

        Many people here are irrational about the odds of being blown up and think it is an ever present ongoing danger for all of us. The odds are tiny compared to other, real dangers. Because of this overinflated fear, we’re damaging our future

        As for your car analogy, explain how a getting license is like an unwarranted search again? Maybe if the government went around issuing secret licenses, but they don’t. It’s open and public and by choice.

        We ARE giving our local police more tools to feed our license plate locations into a national database, but not to make driving safer. Because “Terror!”

        A more real terror is living under constant, unwarranted government surveillance and amongst people who think this is fine.

        • You compared the death rates

          You compared the death rates of a terrorist attacks with slipping in the shower.

          I don’t think you can overlook the emotional effects of terrorism, that is why it’s effective. And I think, while it’s a good suggestion, it’s not realistic to expect people to react to a sudden terrorist attack any differently than they do.

          It’s the very definition of terrorism to produce the reaction it does. What may seem irrational to you (reaction to the odds of being blown up) is a pretty universal human response to a terrorist attack.

          Now it would be nice if our government’s response wasn’t to squander lives and money by then going after people who had nothing to do with the attack. Or drumming up fear with brightly colored attack alerts that were admitted later to be bogus. I won’t include increasing surveillance because I think there’s a discussion to be had more in depth over that issue.

          But I think you deny the reality of how terrorism works, and it works well, on the psyche by stating that a more real terror is living under “constant, unwarranted government surveillance and amongst people who think this is fine.” Unwarranted government surveillance is perhaps bad but it’s not a terror attack. If you live in true “terror” about unwarranted government surveillance then god forbid you ever experience a true terrorist attack up close and personally. You wouldn’t make it through.

          • Sorry, think that last

            Sorry, think that last paragraph sounded a little snarky which was unintentioned. Let me try this again. You say that it’s a more real terror to be living under government surveillance and amongst those who think it’s okay.

            I just think you can’t say one thing is “more real” in terms of terror than another. It’s simply not the same thing/terror.

  • "The Tshwane Principles"

    Interestingly, “global principles on national security and the right to information” were just finalized and issued on June 12th in Tshwane, South Africa. 22 organizations and academic centers in consultation with 500 experts from 70 countries were involved. Think they’ll inform corrective legislation and/or policies in the US?


    Here’s the background/rationale from the document:

    “National security and the public’s right to know are often viewed as pulling in opposite directions. While there is at times a tension between a government’s desire to keep information secret on national security grounds and the public’s right to information held by public authorities, a clear-eyed review of recent history suggests that legitimate national security interests are, in practice, best protected when the public is well informed about the state’s activities, including those undertaken to protect national security.

    “Access to information, by enabling public scrutiny of state action, not only safeguards against abuse by public officials but also permits the public to play a role in determining the policies of the state and thereby forms a crucial component of genuine national security, democratic participation, and sound policy formulation. In order to protect the full exercise of human rights, in certain circumstances it may be necessary to keep information secret to protect legitimate national security interests. Striking the right balance is made all the more challenging by the fact that courts in many countries demonstrate the least independence and greatest deference to the claims of government when national security is invoked. This deference is reinforced by provisions in the security laws of many countries that trigger exceptions to the right to information as well as to ordinary rules of evidence and rights of the accused upon a minimal showing, or even the mere assertion by the government, of a national security risk. A government’s over-invocation of national security concerns can seriously undermine the main institutional safeguards against government abuse: independence of the courts, the rule of law, legislative oversight, media freedom, and open government. These Principles respond to the above – described long standing challenges as well as to the fact that, in recent years, a significant number of states around the world have embarked on adopting or revising classification regimes and related laws.

    “This trend in turn has been sparked by several developments. Perhaps most significant has been the rapid adoption of access to information laws since the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the result that, as of the date that these Principles were issued, more than 5.2 billion people in 95 countries around the world enjoy the right of access to information — at least in law, if not in practice. People in these countries are — often for the first time — grappling with the question of whether and under what circumstances information may be kept secret. Other developments contributing to an increase in proposed secrecy legislation have been government responses to terrorism or the threat of terrorism, and an interest in having secrecy regulated by law in the context of democratic transitions.”

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