Michelle Richardson writes: Members of Congress have introduced almost 30 separate bills to rein in NSA spying, increase transparency, or rework the secret court process that has sanctioned these programs. Two pieces of legislation, however, have momentum, and they couldn’t be more different.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – the body charged with oversight of these very programs – advanced legislation introduced by its chair, Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat from California), last week that would entrench the current spying programs and give them explicit Congressional authorization to continue.
The legislation would make clear in no uncertain terms that communication records like phone, email, and internet data can be collected without even an ounce of suspicion, pursuant to the so-called privacy rules already in place. Being silent on other types of data like location information or financial records, it passively condones their collection too, but without even the benefit of the paltry protections in place now. For the first time in history, Congress would explicitly and intentionally authorize dragnet domestic spying programs targeting every day Americans.
The Feinstein bill also makes the current situation even worse. It gives the government a 72-hour grace period to warrantlessly spy on foreigners who enter the US, without even the attorney general approval that is currently required in emergency situations. It explicitly states that none of its provisions should be read to prevent law enforcement from digging through massive NSA databases for evidence of criminal activity. By doing so, it authorizes that specific practice in a roundabout way. Finally, it sets up the prospect of all members of Congress accessing important court orders and other information, but then undercuts this requirement by endorsing current rules and practices that have been used to prevent members of the House from reading foundational documents that could inform the votes they must make on whether to continue these programs. [Continue reading…]