Just days after voting down several gun related bills in defense of the Second Amendment, Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds voted to undermine the Fourth Amendment and grant the FBI the power to gather transaction email, chat, and web browsing data without a warrant or judicial oversight via National Security Letters (NSL). Senator Rounds even co-sponsored the measure.
Republicans are taking advantage of the shooting tragedy in Orlando to push the measure, but as noted in the Christian Science Monitor:
Senators Rounds and Thune dealt a severe blow to consumer privacy when they helped to pass Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) on Oct 27th 2015. From Senator Round’s press release,
The bipartisan cyber security bill we passed in the Senate today will help protect Americans from such cyber-attacks by allowing companies to share information about cyber-threats to prevent other businesses from falling victim to similar threats. It does so while protecting Americans’ private information from being shared and is 100 percent voluntary.
A coalition of 25 various organizations led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently graded elected officials in Washington, D.C. on the extent to which they are pushing for real surveillance reform. From the coalition’s website:
We are calling on the United States government to:
- Pass strong legislative reform to outlaw mass surveillance, including phone record surveillance and Internet surveillance. This must include a recognition of the privacy rights of non-US citizens.
- Reform the FISA court, the secret court that signs off on the NSA’s secret surveillance. FISA court reform includes transparency into any significant or new legal interpretations made by court and ensuring a well-resourced public advocate is in place to argue for privacy rights within the court and seek further review.
- Prohibit the NSA from undermining international encryption technologies and standards and hacking into technology companies.
- Promote transparency, publish transparency reports, and also give companies rights to publish granular accounts about how companies cooperate with bulk surveillance efforts and the number of user accounts that are affected.
Congress hasn’t acted on all of these issues recently, so I’d think of it as more of a mid-term report card. The methodology for the report card can be seen at the coalition’s web site. The Senate hasn’t voted on any related measures, so neither Sen. Thune and Sen. Johnson were graded.
Much has been said about metadata since the revelation this year of a NSA (National Security Agency) program that collects the telephone metadata of every American.
Many in Congress believe that metadata collection is not surveillance because it does not include the content of telephone calls. The truth is that the NSA’s metadata collection programs and subsequent analysis are surveillance. And for ordinary Americans, it may be the greatest invasion of privacy we’ve ever experienced.
Metadata is the set of information that describes something else. For a cell phone call, it includes the name, number, time, duration, and location for both the sender and recipient.
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