Feinstein’s Fake Fix May Expand Use of the Phone Dragnet

Dianne Feinstein and 10 other Senate Intelligence Committee members approved a bill yesterday that purports to improve the dragnet but actually does almost nothing besides writing down the rules the FISA Court already imposed on the practice.

I’ll have far more on DiFi’s Fake Fix later, but for now, I want to point to language that could dramatically expand use of the phone dragnet database, at least as they’ve portrayed its use.

Here’s how, in June, DiFi described the terms on which NSA could access the dragnet database.

It can only look at that data after a showing that there is a reasonable, articulable that a specific individual is involved in terrorism, actually related to al Qaeda or Iran. At that point, the database can be searched. [my emphasis]

Here are the terms on which her Fake Fix permits access to the database.

there was a reasonable articulable suspicion that the selector was associated with international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor. [my emphasis]

The bill passed yesterday does not require any tie to al Qaeda (or Iran!). An association with al Qaeda (and Iran!) is one possible standard for accessing the database. But it also permits use of the data if someone is “associated with activities in preparation” for international terrorism.

Does that include selling drugs to make money to engage in “terrorism”? Does that include taking pictures of landmark buildings? Does that include accessing a computer in a funny way?

All of those things might be deemed “activities in preparation” for terrorism. And this bill, as written, appears to permit the government to access the database of all the phone-based relationships in the US based not on any known association with al Qaeda (and Iran!), but instead activities that might indicate preparation for terrorism but might also indicate mild nefarious activity or even tourism crossing international borders.

7 replies
  1. john francis lee says:

    Resolution to Secure Communications within and without our United States of America


    This resolution dissolves the dysfunctional National Security Agency (NSA) and transfers the responsibility of safeguarding and securing communications both within and without the United States to the United States Post Office.


    WHEREAS, safe and secure communications are essential to the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of US citizens and of all people with whom they communicate; and

    WHEREAS, the National Security Agency (NSA) has engaged in the systematic destruction of the ability of US citizens and of all people with whom they communicate to enjoy safe and secure communications; and

    WHEREAS, the Congress of the United States is empowered and required “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” by the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7; and

    WHEREAS, now in this 21st century our communications are conducted digitally over our internetwork, over our “information suuperhighway”;

    THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the House of Representatives and Senate of these United States:

    1. That the National Security Agency (NSA), which was originally devised to safequard the ability of US citizens and of all people with whom they communicate to enjoy safe and secure communications, but which is now seen to be the very corrupter and destroyer of same, be disbanded and shall cease to exist; and

    2. That the United States Post Office shall takeup the provisioning and safeguarding of the ability of US citizens and of all people with whom they communicate to enjoy safe and secure communications ; and

    3. That the United States Post Office shall do so not only with regard to their physical communications but also with regard to their electronic, digital communications; and

    4. That the United States Post Office shall make any and all software it may use and any and all software it may devise to ensure the safe and secure communications of US citizens and of all people with whom they communicate open and public for the inspection and free use of all; and

    5. That all property and such personnel formerly in the employ of the National Security Agency (NSA) which the United States Post Office shall find fit to use shall devolve to the United States Post Office for its use in pursuit of these ends.

  2. joanneleon says:

    Interesting how they slipped Iran into the mix, essentially redefining the war on terror. What exactly does it mean to have an association with Iran? Every single Iranian? My kid has facebook friends in Iran from online gaming. That means I have associations with Iran.

    So it seems like terrorism much be the premise, but that sentence is worded weirdly.
    “reasonable, articulable that a specific individual is involved in terrorism, actually related to al Qaeda or Iran.”

    The Occupy movement was on a Homeland Security watch under the category of low level terrorism. Any left-wing protests are probably classified as low level terrorism, including environmental activists. Anybody who ever uses the term “revolution” is probably a candidate even if they’re talking about peaceful means.

    Any form of the word “association” used without a clear definition is going to be abused. Why does this bill NOT go to great lengths to define some of these words like “association” or the word “terrorism” itself. The fundamental problem here is that words were redefined and secret interpretations were made. Why are these terms not defined more clearly?

    We should no longer accept the use of the word “terrorism” in any form until Congress defines what this means and other words that have been secretly redefined by the intelligence and law enforcement in this country.

    But really, that inclusion of Iran really bothers me. That’s new. That’s HUGE to suddenly redefine who the war on terror is about. How the hell can they get away with this and since when is “associated forces” not wildly broad enough?

    There’s a SERIOUS problem when people in this country can’t clearly figure out what kinds of activities might be interpreted as terrorism related. God, I hope this bill has no chance of passing but that 11-4 vote is as scary as hell, and given that Pelosi and Boehner got the Amash-Conyers amendment squashed, there’s not reason to believe that they can’t do the same for this. Is there any chance of Leahy’s bill passing the Senate? If the Republicans are mostly going to line up with the IC, and the Tea Party clowns did a nice job of marginalizing that wing of their party (nice job, Ted Cruz, it almost looks like you’re on a mission to weaken the “fringe” of your party), and the Democrats always fall in line for just enough votes, Feinstein might actually get this done. Let’s hope we keep seeing delays which will mean she doesn’t have the votes.

  3. lysias says:

    According to this morning’s Washington Post, the big U.S. tech companies are now lobbying for the rival Leahy-Sensenbrenner legislation, which would shut down bulk collection.

  4. C says:

    Of course it does. The phone dragnet is about American calls not those of foreign leaders so in her mind it is fine.

  5. john francis lee says:

    @lysias: yeah it would … and it would save us from not only the NSA but from the Googleplex and every other filthy TNC that’s rendering our communications and marketing us, their customers, as ‘product’. And it would put the mechanics of the whole operation out in the sunlight … where such outfits and their disgusting denizens will be destroyed by the thermonuclear radiation that all of us and all of the beautiful green plants of our planet thrive on.

Comments are closed.