By Trevor Timm
NBC News (1/11/18)
Democrats have been all over the airwaves recently accusing Donald Trump of abusing the Justice Department to go after his political enemies —most notably his former opponent Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, which the Department of Justice is reportedly currently investigating based on allegation made during the 2016 presidential campaign. So you’d think they would oppose handing Donald Trump any more power with which he could potentially use against all sorts of Americans who attract negative attention from his administration.
Yet, with the help of some Democrats, the House of Representatives voted today — and the Senate will do so sometime in the next week — to extend a controversial NSA surveillance power that potentially affects millions of Americans’ privacy rights.
The bill is an extension of what’s known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the NSA to warrantlessly target people in other countries who are communicating with Americans — which means that the collect the personal communications of Americans without their knowledge. Currently, the NSA has over 100,000 foreign nationals under this type of surveillance now, but it also has the communications of the potentially millions of Americans they’ve talked to, texted with and emailed over the course of the surveillance. The FBI has access to this vast database of information and regularly searches it like Google without a warrant, for crimes that have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism..
Privacy advocates have long argued this practice is unconstitutional, and any American agency should need a warrant to go back into that vast NSA database of Americans’ communications and date in order to mine it for information — like the Fourth Amendment requires.
But with Section 702 expiring next week, the Trump administration has of course, demanded that Congress pass an extension with supposed “reforms” that do hardly anything to stop the feds from abusing their powers and actually codify the ability for the FBI, in many cases, to search Americans’ emails without a warrant.
Paul Ryan and House Republicans needed Democratic votes to ensure that the measure passed because at least some members of House Freedom Caucus, led by GOP Rep. Justin Amash, were staunchly opposed to any extension without robust safeguards to protect Americans’ privacy. Along with a large group of Democrats — including the Democratic National Committee vice chairman, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn — the group had an amendment to the extension known as the USA RIGHTS Act, which would have replaced the privacy-invasive bill with a privacy-protecting one.
The USA RIGHTS Act would have required the FBI to get a warrant to go back into the NSA’s Section 702 database to search for Americans’ information. It also would have provided additional safeguards to make sure the bill doesn’t turn into a domestic surveillance bill.
Even Rep. Adam Schiff handed Trump what he wanted
Yet up until just hours before the vote, the most powerful member of the Democratic Caucus, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, was notably silent on the bill. If Pelosi had whipped Democrats to vote against the bill and supported the USA RIGHTS Act instead, there’s a good chance that Trump and Ryan would have failed to get their full extension. Yet, just before the floor vote today she said she would not support the USA Rights Act and shamefully voted to hand Trump exactly what he wanted.
Almost worse than Pelosi’s willingness to go along with the NSA was Rep. Adam Schiff’s, D-Calif., who has seen his star rise over the last year being the Democrat’s go-to voice on the Russia investigation. On CNN with Jake Tapper this weekend, Schiff talked at length how he thought Trump was abusing his power and misusing the Justice Department to go after his political enemies.
Nonetheless, Schiff was a leading driver in the House to extend the NSA’s surveillance powers, and has been undercutting the more robust reforms proposed by other Democrats, like longtime Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, for months. (The Senate is expected to take up their own vote sometime in the next week if the House passes its bill.)
But for all the supporters’ insistence that the NSA and FBI “need” these powers, no one proposed to actually strip the agencies of their ability to conduct surveillance on targets abroad; even the USA RIGHTS Amendment did nothing to restrict them in that regard. It merely would have protected Americans whose communications get swept up in the NSA’s vast nets from being abused after the fact.
In 2018, we have the worst-case-scenario president about whom privacy advocates have warned for years while seeking to restrict government surveillance powers. …
Taking Short Break From Denouncing Trump Authoritarianism, House Dems Join With GOP to ‘Violate the Privacy Rights of Everyone in United States’
By Jon Queally
Common Dreams (1/11/18)
Despite spending much of the last twelve months denouncing the legitimate threat posed by President Donald Trump’s penchant for authoritarian policies and behavior, 65 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday joined with 191 Republicans in passing a bill that advocates of civil liberties warn will lead to the wholesale violation ‘of privacy rights for everyone in the United States.’
While the final vote on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (or S.139)—which included renewal of the controversial Section 702 which allows government agencies to spy on the emails, text messages, and other electronic communications of Americans and foreigners without a warrant—was 256 to 164 in favor of passage, the partisan breakdown revealed that Republicans in the majority needed a great deal of Democratic support in order to have it pass.
Edward Snowden Tweet – House votes 256-164 to expand Trump’s warrantless surveillance powers for the next six years. The vote to reform warrantless searches of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails failed, needing the support of 26 more. Dems could have swung it, but 55 of them voted with the Trump camp.
“The House voted today to give President Trump and his administration more spying powers,” said Neema Singh Guliani, policy counsel with the ACLU, in a statement following the vote. “The government will use this bill to continue warrantless intrusions into Americans’ private emails, text messages, and other communications.”
And while “no president should have this power,” Guliani continued, “members of Congress just voted to hand it to an administration that has labeled individuals as threats based merely on their religion, nationality, or viewpoints.”
Though Democrats have a long history—including under the previous administration of President Barack Obama—of backing mass surveillance and submitting to the demands of U.S. intelligence agencies, critics point out the hard-to-ignore hypocrisy of those who have endlessly warned against Trump’s authoritarian tendencies with one hand, while supporting these repressive and anti-democratic surveillance powers with the other. As Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, argued in a tweet:
Democratic leadership in the House —who say that Trump is currently abusing his power to go after his political enemies—just helped him pass dangerous domestic surveillance powers. My piece for @NBCNewsTHINK: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/amp/ncna836836 …
Members of the Democratic Party, Timm elaborated in his NBC News op-ed,
…have been all over the airwaves recently accusing Donald Trump of abusing the Justice Department to go after his political enemies—most notably his former opponent Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, which the Department of Justice is reportedly currently investigating based on allegation made during the 2016 presidential campaign. So you’d think they would oppose handing Donald Trump any more power with which he could potentially use against all sorts of Americans who attract negative attention from his administration.
Yet, with the help of some Democrats, the House of Representatives voted today— and the Senate will do so sometime in the next week — to extend a controversial NSA surveillance power that potentially affects millions of Americans’ privacy rights.
And journalist Adam Johnson made a similar argument in a series of tweets [Follow link below. Ed.].
Sandra Fulton, government relations manage for the Free Press Action Fund, said “the last thing Congress should be doing” is renewing a law that allows U.S. intelligence agencies “to continue spying on the communications of people in the United States, forfeiting the essential privacy rights” of every person in the United States. “No government entity should have such oppressive surveillance powers,” Fulton said. “This unconstitutional legislation will allow the FBI to continue sifting through the data even when those searches don’t involve a specific criminal investigation.”
In an email sent to The Intercept‘s Alex Emmons following the vote, Daniel Schuman, policy director for the progressive group Demand Progress, criticized the party’s failure to oppose the bill and bemoaned that a “swing of just 26 Democrats would have defeated the measure.”
While Timm expressed gratitute to House Democrats who fought to add critical privacy protections to the bill, an amendment offered by Rep. Justin Amash which was supported by many progressives was defeated:
@tedlieu, @RoKhanna, @RepZoeLofgren, and @keithellison—took a principled stand for privacy and against handing Trump domestic surveillance powers. It’s a shame Democratic leadership didn’t follow their lead.
Meanwhile, Democrats like Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who has aggressively opposed Trump on other fronts, were specifically called out for voting in favor of reauthorization of Section 702:
I remember when Adam Schiff was one of the first #resistance heroes shortly after the election. Now he voted to give Trump the ability to look through your webcam: https://nyti.ms/2FtG8iz
And journalist Glenn Greenwald, who consistently slammed the provisions of Section 702 and expansive NSA spying powers under Obama, said that its outrageous how Democrats who oppose Trump at nearly every turn would so blithely vote to reauthorize these powers given their repeated and stated concerns about the president.
People can reasonably debate what #Resistance means. But shouldn’t it be clear that, at minimum, it means you don’t hand this particular power to the person you claim to be #resisting? https://twitter.com/tedlieu/status/951494644218695681 …
It’d be an inexcusable oversight to allow Schiff, Swalwell, Pelosi et al to go on TV & accuse Trump of being a lawless, traitorous, power-abusing, tyrant without asking them to reconcile that with their vote to vest him with sprawling, largely unchecked domestic spying powers. https://twitter.com/mtracey/status/951524906679889923 …
Oh, and finally: it seems rather odd, to put that mildly, to simultaneously insist that Trump is a traitorous agent or enslaved tool of an adversarial foreign power to whom he reports back, and then vote to give Trump extremely invasive, largely unchecked domestic spying power.
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(Commoner Call photo by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecomonercall.org )