February 06, 2008

Today's FISA News Roundup: EFF deeplinksDHS,

February 6th, 2008

FISA News Roundup

Posted by Hugh D'Andrade

As the Senate prepares to vote on amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this week -- including the crucial Dodd-Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity from the bill -- the web is lighting up with news and analysis. A few highlights:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell sent a letter to Senate leaders reminding them (in case they have forgotten) that the President will veto any FISA bill that does not include immunity for telecoms like AT&T that cooperated in the NSA's domestic spying program.

If any of these amendments [striking or altering immunity conditions in the bill] is part of the bill that is presented to the President, we, as well as the President’s other senior advisors, will recommend that he veto the bill.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid stood up to Mukasey's bullying and told it like it is:

This veto threat is part of a White House strategy to jam the bill through Congress with procedural maneuvers and political gamesmanship. We call on Republicans to allow the legislative process to work so that the Senate can pass a strong bipartisan bill.

Meanwhile, in a call to right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh meant to shore up support for the telco immunity, Vice President Dick Cheney was uncharacteristically blunt in admitting the private sector's cooperation in the NSA program:

Those companies helped specifically at our request. They've done yeoman duty for the country.

Senator Feingold told Newsweek why Americans dislike the idea of immunity:

People see their own personal liberties affected. And we've seen that the telecom immunity does offend people. People may be nervous about giving a free pass [on immigration]. But what's gonna bother them even more are the types of things I'm describing here: the level to which their privacy is being subjected to a "trust me" government that impacts their daily freedom and privacy. It really is disturbing to people with any kind of common sense at all.

Senator Rockefeller had some worrisome things to say on the floor today about the Senate's FISA bill, as Wired's Threat Level notes. General warrants, anyone?

Unlike traditional [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application orders which involve collection on one individual target, the new FISA provisions create a system of collection. The courts role in this system of collection is not to consider probable cause on individual targets but to ensure that procedures used to collect intelligence are adequate. The courts' determination of the adequacy of procedures therefore impacts all electronic communications gathered under the new mechanisms, even if it involves thousands of targets.

And the LA Times Editorial board reminded readers that the telecoms have a responsibility to uphold the law as the last line of defense against illegal government surveillance:

It's important that phone companies and Internet providers cooperate fully with legal surveillance requests, and that they not be put at risk for doing so. On warrantless wiretaps, however, those firms are the only potential check against unlawful snooping. If they're protected from any liability, they will have no reason to question the legal basis for the government's requests.

The Senate will be voting on these amendments any day now, and the question of whether to hold telecoms accountable will be resolved one way or the other. Now is the time to take action -- call or email your Senator to urge them to vote Yes on the Dodd-Feingold amendment!


February 6th, 2008

President Tries to Scrap New Open Government Office

Posted by Marcia Hofmann

Just weeks after signing legislation that significantly updated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the first time in more than a decade, the President is attempting to single-handedly strike a major part of the new law.

Among other improvements to the FOIA, the OPEN Government Act created an ombudsman to settle problems between FOIA requesters and federal agencies, as well as keep tabs on how well the FOIA works in practice. Rather than put the new office in the Department of Justice, which has been in charge of the government's FOIA policy for more than 30 years and represents the government in FOIA lawsuits filed by requesters, Congress decided that it should be part of the National Archives and Records Administration to help maintain its independence.

It seemed that President Bush was behind this idea when he signed the OPEN Government Act into law on December 31. His proposed budget for 2009, however, includes a provision that would "repeal" the ombudsman's office and shift its funding to the Justice Department.

If the President's attempt to get rid the ombudsman is successful, it would be tremendously unfortunate for both the public and the government. This new office is meant to give requesters a way to resolve FOIA disputes without having to resort to litigation, which would be cheaper and less burdensome for people who have trouble getting documents from the government, and might reduce the number of FOIA lawsuits that the government has to defend against. The creation of the ombudsman's office is a good idea for improving the FOIA process, which doesn't work as well as it should. The President should see if it makes things better before deciding it's not worth the money.

EFF has joined a coalition of more than 40 organizations asking Congress to provide funds for the ombudsmen to work out of the National Archives as Congress intended. You can read our objections to the budget proposal here.

To learn more about EFF's Freedom of Information Act litigation, click here.


February 6th, 2008

CNET's "Real ID vs. the States" Series Covers Looming Showdown

Posted by Richard Esguerra

This week, CNET launched its four-part series covering Real ID -- the dangerous federal plan to create a national ID card that presents a massive threat to citizens' privacy, among other critical flaws.

The REAL ID Act was signed into law in 2005 and forces states to standardize driver's licenses in a way that turns them into a national ID. In January 2008, the Department of Homeland Security announced a set of standards to fulfill the vague mandate passed by Congress, but were met with opposition from a broad stable of parties -- beyond the long roster of privacy organizations and consumer advocates, the House Committee on Homeland Security, Senator Patrick Leahy (Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee), and a number of other key members of Congress spoke out against the regulations.

So far, the CNET series has been comprehensive in its coverage of the issue, describing the complicated timeline; showing which states have assented to, wavered on, and bravely opposed the costly federal mandate; and depicting the chaos facing travelers and citizens across the country.


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