US domestic, er, foreign spying bill progresses through Congress

Thought the Snowden leaks would make things better? Joke's on you

A draft law protecting one of the US government's spying programs has passed through the initial markup stage in the Congress, providing one more opportunity to witness the "up is down" world in which American politics currently resides.

The USA Liberty Act put forward by House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is notable in that it does the complete opposite of what it claims to.

The act would reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – which allows American snoops to scour communications for information on specific foreign targets.

But the current proposal would in fact create a permanent domestic spying program – not a foreign one – and put in place legal protections for the FBI to continue running a surveillance program that it claims doesn't exist but does.

The law would provide permanent access to a vast database on US citizens that the intelligence community says doesn't exist but does.

It would effectively write into law a series of highly dubious and largely secret legal interpretations developed by the US intelligence services to grant themselves access to highly sensitive data collected on American citizens.

And the proposal purposefully fails to define key terms like "query" in order to maintain the fiction that the program is legal when it would almost certainly be deemed unconstitutional if it were put in front of a court.

Into this ludicrous situation came the House Judiciary Committee whose members proceeded today to make a long series of incorrect statements on the public record in order to justify their support of the law.

Nope, nope, come on!

Among the many statements that were instantly picked apart by online observers was Goodlatte's own suggestion that the Section 702 database is not segregated from the other FBI databases – when the FBI's own filing said it is.

Later, while shooting down an amendment that would introduce safeguards to the program and help identify any abuses, Goodlatte claimed that there had never been any abuses of the current program: something that is of course impossible to know since there is no system that can identify them – which was the point of the amendment in the first place.

A number of representatives claimed that Section 702 data has been approved for use in criminal investigations – in order to justify the "exemptions" that would give the FBI constant access to the database. Whether they actually believe that to be true is unclear but what is clear is that the use of the data for that purpose has never been approved by a court: it was simply asserted by the intelligence services.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asserted that there no need for a warrant to access information if it was a matter of national security – in order to push back on efforts to force the FBI to go through additional legal processes before search for information on US citizens. Again, this is a wildly misleading interpretation of the law and another sign of how the intelligence services will squeeze everything they can into the slightest hole in the law.

Representative Goodlatte argued that requiring the FBI to get a warrant to search the Section 702 database would be an unnecessary "burden" on the FBI – and then immediately spoke in defense of the Fourth Amendment, which many legal scholars feel strongly requires the FBI to get that warrant.

Over the course of the hearing, in order to avoid any restrictions being placed on the FBI, congressmen found themselves in the position of claiming that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is unable to figure out whether an individual is a US citizen even if they have their mobile phone number, license plate and zip code.

And on it went, with a core group of representatives shooting down any effort to introduce changes to the current wording. Even a proposal to require the director of national intelligence to confidentially inform the "gang of eight" of congressional leaders overseeing intelligence operations of future efforts to interfere with US elections gathered through Section 702 was dismissed as "partisan".

Next page: Flipside

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Google Pixel 6, 6 Pro Android 12 smartphone launch marred by shopping cart crashes

    Chocolate Factory talks up Tensor mobile SoC, Titan M2 security ... for those who can get them

    Google held a virtual event on Tuesday to introduce its latest Android phones, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, which are based on a Google-designed Tensor system-on-a-chip (SoC).

    "We're getting the most out of leading edge hardware and software, and AI," said Rick Osterloh, SVP of devices and services at Google. "The brains of our new Pixel lineup is Google Tensor, a mobile system on a chip that we designed specifically around our ambient computing vision and Google's work in AI."

    This latest Tensor SoC has dual Arm Cortex-X1 CPU cores running at 2.8GHz to handle application threads that need a lot of oomph, two Cortex-A76 cores at 2.25GHz for more modest workloads, and four 1.8GHz workhorse Cortex-A55 cores for lighter, less-energy-intensive tasks.

    Continue reading
  • BlackMatter ransomware gang will target agriculture for its next harvest – Uncle Sam

    What was that about hackable tractors?

    The US CISA cybersecurity agency has warned that the Darkside ransomware gang, aka BlackMatter, has been targeting American food and agriculture businesses – and urges security pros to be on the lookout for indicators of compromise.

    Well known in Western infosec circles for causing the shutdown of the US Colonial Pipeline, Darkside's apparent rebranding as BlackMatter after promising to go away for good in the wake of the pipeline hack hasn't slowed their criminal extortion down at all.

    "Ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure entities could directly affect consumer access to critical infrastructure services; therefore, CISA, the FBI, and NSA urge all organizations, including critical infrastructure organizations, to implement the recommendations listed in the Mitigations section of this joint advisory," said the agencies in an alert published on the CISA website.

    Continue reading
  • It's heeere: Node.js 17 is out – but not for production use, says dev team

    EcmaScript 6 modules will not stop growing use of Node, claims chair of Technical Steering Committee

    Node.js 17 is out, loaded with OpenSSL 3 and other new features, but it is not intended for use in production – and the promotion for Node.js 16 to an LTS release, expected soon, may be more important to most developers.

    The release cycle is based on six-monthly major versions, with only the even numbers becoming LTS (long term support) editions. The rule is that a new even-numbered release becomes LTS six months later. All releases get six months of support. This means that Node.js 17 is primarily for testing and experimentation, but also that Node.js 16 (released in April) is about to become LTS. New features in 16 included version 9.0 of the V8 JavaScript engine and prebuilt Apple silicon binaries.

    "We put together the LTS release process almost five years ago, it works quite well in that we're balancing [the fact] that some people want the latest, others prefer to have things be stable… when we go LTS," Red Hat's Michael Dawson, chair of the Node.js Technical Steering Committee, told The Register.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021