Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Good On Him

I am not a fan of the "hold," a process by which a single senator can stop a bill dead in its tracks for any reason at all. It always seemed to me to be antithetical to the democratic process. I may have to reassess my position, however, thanks to a Democrat.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will seek to block passage of an intelligence bill that extends the government’s eavesdropping authorities because the intelligence community won’t say how many Americans are being monitored, he said Tuesday.

At issue is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in 1978 in response to revelations of political wiretapping. The law was updated in 2008 in a way that essentially legalized President George W. Bush’s “warrantless wiretapping” program aimed at stopping terrorism plots. The intelligence bill, approved Monday by the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, would extend the 2008 changes until 2015. Those changes greatly expanded the government’s surveillance authorities. The targets must be foreigners out of the country, but their conversations with Americans are fair game. ...

Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.), who serve on the intelligence committee, asked the director of national intelligence earlier this month how many Americans have had their communications monitored under the law. The DNI’s office responded in a letter that “it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority.”

But wait, there's more obfuscation involved.

At a Senate hearing July 26, Wyden, who serves on the intelligence committee, asked Matthew Olsen, NSA's general counsel and the nominee to direct the National Counterterrorism Center, whether government agencies “have the authority to use cell-site data to track the location of Americans inside the United States for intelligence purposes.”

Olsen replied, “There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist . . .” He did not elaborate.

Some answer, eh?

When Wyden and the committee did get some information, it wasn't the kind that satisfied, the senator. Not hardly.

“During a July 2011 committee hearing, the general counsel of the National Security Agency acknowledged that certain legal pleadings by the executive branch and court opinions from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court regarding the Patriot Act are classified,” Wyden and Udall said in dissent included in the Senate committee report on the bill. “We have had the opportunity to review these pleadings and rulings, and we believe that most members of the American public would be very surprised to learn how federal surveillance law is being interpreted in secret.”

And so Senator Wyden has placed a hold on the bill to renew the FISA law. Good on him. It's time for an honest appraisal of the job the intelligence authorities are doing, an appraisal that lets us know just far they have overreached and invaded our privacy just because they can.

I suggest you send senator Wyden a little love by letting your senators know you expect them to back him up on this quest for the truth.

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