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Bill to Restrict NSA Data Collection Blocked by Senate Republicans

Nokia AT&T phone
Relic of a simpler time. 

So the Senate Republicans blocked legislation ((S.2685: Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2014)) that could theoretically protect us from government overreach. What a surprise!

 Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a sweeping overhaul of the once-secret National Security Agency program that collects records of Americans’ phone calls in bulk.

But Tuesday’s vote only put off a debate over security and personal liberties until next year. While a Republican-controlled Senate is less likely to go along with the kinds of reforms that were in the bill, which sponsors had named the U.S.A. Freedom Act, the debate could further expose rifts between the party’s interventionist and more libertarian-leaning wings.

Under the bill, which grew out of the disclosures in June 2013 by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, the N.S.A. would have gotten out of the business of collecting Americans’ phone records. Instead, most of the records would have stayed in the hands of the phone companies, which would not have been required to hold them any longer than they already do for normal business purposes, which in some cases is 18 months.

The N.S.A., Mr. Snowden revealed, was systematically collecting such telephone metadata …from major American phone companies. The program began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, based on an assertion of unilateral executive power by President George W. Bush. In 2006, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had secretly brought the program under its authority and started issuing orders under the Patriot Act to the companies for their records.

The proposed legislation would still have allowed analysts to perform so-called contact chaining in which they trace a suspect’s network of acquaintances, but they would been required to use a new kind of court order to swiftly obtain only those records that were linked, up to two layers away, to a suspect — even when held by different phone companies.

(click here to continue reading Bill to Restrict N.S.A. Data Collection Blocked in Vote by Senate Republicans – NYTimes.com.)

For all their chants about eliminating Big Gov’ment, Senator Mitch McConnell and his team secretly love expansion of federal reach. For the GOP: expanding government surveillance is good, controlling women’s uteruses is better, expanding defense contractors weaponry program is best. The only kind of government programs the GOP doesn’t like are things like SNAP, EPA, and so on. You know, the stuff that might actually help someone.

Also of note: Senator Rand Paul, Mr. Libertarian himself, voted no on this bill. Wonder how his acolytes will spin it? Especially since Senators Ted “Calgary” Cruz, Dean Heller, Mike Lee and Lisa Murkowski all voted yes…

Transformers 3 Soldier extra
Soldier making NSA tracked call

From Bloomberg Businessweek, the tech industry was pushing for this bill:

The bill was an attempt to force spy agencies to collect only information sought through a court order and exclude the use of broad searches like by ZIP codes. A coalition of Internet and technology companies, which include Google Inc. and Twitter Inc., supported the Senate bill while saying the Republican-backed House version passed in May would still allow bulk collection of Internet user data.

U.S. Internet and technology companies say they’ve already lost contracts with foreign governments over the issue. Forrester Research Inc. estimates the backlash against NSA spying could cost as much as $180 billion in lost business. Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc.  are among the companies pushing for limits.

Americans learned of the spying in June 2013 when Snowden, a former NSA contractor revealed a program under which the U.S. uses court orders to compel companies to turn over data about their users. Documents divulged by Snowden also uncovered NSA hacking of fiber-optic cables abroad and installation of surveillance tools into routers, servers and other network equipment.

(click here to continue reading Senate Blocks Vote on Curbing NSA’s Bulk Data Collection Program – Businessweek.)