We’re asking everybody to call their Congressmember (Massachusetts numbers below the fold) to support HR1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act, a bipartisan bill we helped introduce that would truly end mass surveillance. This is why it matters.
On June 1, the part of the PATRIOT Act that has been used to legitimate the mass collection of all of our phone call information, and much else besides, will lapse, It’s a terrible provision known as “Section 215.” Section 215 allows the FBI – and, it appears, other intelligence agencies too – to collect “any tangible things” that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation. As it turns out, the intelligence community has argued explicitly that every single call in the United States is “relevant”. So, it appears, if we don’t let the NSA know exactly when I called the Danish Pastry House in Watertown about my one-year-old daughter’s first birthday cake, then ISIS will destroy us all.
There has been no legislation proposed yet from either chamber of Congress to renew Section 215. The intelligence community is panicking, and is apparently literally waving pictures of the burning Twin Towers at our elected officials, and telling them that if Section 215 lapses and there’s another attack, it’ll be the lawmakers’ fault and ISIS will destroy us all.
There may be a bill launched next week that would renew it, called the USA FREEDOM Act. Many civil liberties groups plan to support it, because it would also include reforms to Section 215, and may also reform (not repeal) the government’s other mass surveillance programs. We haven’t seen that bill yet, but it would have to be very strong to make it a better deal than simply letting the government’s Section 215 authority die.
There’s actually no evidence that Section 215’s mass surveillance programs have ever stopped a terrorist attack, and the government’s own reports have repeatedly shown that it has never stopped one. Follow me below the fold for the explanation why, and for the numbers to call!
The main substantive reform of the NSA proposed in Congress, the “USA FREEDOM Act”, would ban bulk surveillance, require a Special Advocate to plead the case against surveillance at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and force the publication of secret laws governing how surveillance is conducted.
At Digital Fourth, we have campaigned ever since the law was introduced to get 100% of Massachusetts’ federal legislators – Representatives and Senators – to cosponsor this legislation. Last week, with the cosponsorship of Rep. Richard Neal in Western Massachusetts, we achieved our goal, becoming the only state (other than Alaska and Montana) where that is true.
Right now, the USA FREEDOM Act has 141 cosponsors in the House out of 218 needed, and 21 cosponsors in the Senate. Its cosponsors are almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, sending a message that no matter who occupies the White House, people of all political beliefs have a stake in preventing mass surveillance.
Yesterday, the Internet lit up in protest against mass surveillance. In the US, Congress got over 85,000 phone calls from people frustrated by mass surveillance, and urging their legislators to support the USA FREEDOM Act. Here in Massachusetts, we worked with the ACLU of Massachusetts to target the specific legislators who had not cosponsored. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Rep. Joseph Kennedy (MA-04) and Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-05), who cosponsored over the last week. Our puzzled and insistent glare turns to Rep. Niki Tsongas (MA-03), who has not cosponsored yet and is still considering the matter. The USA FREEDOM Act is currently listed at 134 cosponsors (though that doesn’t yet officially include Rep. Clark, and there may be, after yesterday, other “undeclared cosponsors”).
What’s next? Well, There is a real-deal NSA reform bill, that would repeal the infamous PATRIOT Act altogether, along with the FISA Amendments Act, forbid mandatory software backdoors, and give whistleblower protections to government contractors as well as employees. It’s called the Surveillance State Repeal Act. One of its nine cosponsors is none other than Rep. Richard Neal (MA-01), who has not yet cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act either, it seems because it is not strong enough. We applaud his commitment, but would argue that it’s not an either-or – we’d love to see him cosponsor both. It’s great to see that two other Massachusetts legislators – Rep. James McGovern (MA-02) and Rep. John Tierney (MA-06) – are also among the nine cosponsors, putting Massachusetts at the forefront of efforts to restore freedom and the Fourth Amendment.
So let’s keep moving, and let’s encourage our legislators to cosponsor both of these good bills. And meanwhile, check out our awesome calendar (right) of surveillance-related events coming up in Massachusetts!
The Internet is organizing to oppose mass surveillance on February 11, the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s passing. We’re calling it The Day We Fight Back. This is what we’re doing and how you can get involved.
Call Your Congressmember
Both of our Senators here in Massachusetts and four of our Congressmembers (Tierney, McGovern, Capuano, Keating) have co-sponsored the USA FREEDOM Act, which represents the best near-term chance of meaningful reform of the surveillance state. Now would be an excellent time for newly minted Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Malden) to follow through on her pledge during the campaign to oppose mass surveillance. We’ll be coordinating calls with the ACLU of Massachusetts and others to try to get all nine of our U. S. House members to support it. We need volunteers for all nine congressional districts, so if you can, please sign up to help below.
UPDATE: Courtesy of PrivacySOS, we have news that Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA08) has signed on as a cosponsor. That now makes a majority of Massachusetts representatives cosponsoring the USA Freedom Act.
Cryptoparty at Northeastern
Cryptoparties train members of the public in techniques that go some way toward protecting your communications and your personal data from intrusion by outsiders (non-governmental or governmental). In collaboration with the Tor Project, the Massachusetts Pirate Party, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the National Lawyers’ Guild and others, we’re putting on a cryptoparty at Northeastern University:
Democratic nominee Katherine Clark and Republican nominee Frank Addivinola spent a substantial portion of their only televised debate sparring over privacy and surveillance. It has been great to see these issues playing such an important role in a Congressional campaign. However, there have been two less good outcomes, independent of who wins. First, it’s still not clear that either the Republican or the Democratic candidate will be skeptical enough about the claims of law enforcement and the intelligence agencies. Second, given that that’s so, it is unfortunate that the debate excluded the voices of the two independent candidates, Jim Aulenti and Jim Hall.
Here’s a transcript of the relevant section of the NECN debate, which is no longer available online. Our comments and fact-checking are in italics, and any significant commitments made by the candidates are in bold.
It’s hard out there for third-party and independent candidates. In a more open political system, they would be able to compete on a level playing field with the Democratic and Republican nominees. In practice, there are high campaign finance and procedural hurdles before such candidates even get on the ballot, and even if they clear those high hurdles, they still find themselves treated as somehow less legitimate than the Democrats or Republicans. Now, Jim Braude‘s NECN show “Broadside” is hosting a candidates’ debate tomorrow night, and Braude has declared that only two candidates are welcome, saying:
The party candidates went through the primary process and were chosen by the electorate, and having more people would not do justice to the cause or those party candidates.
What, they couldn’t find an extra podium? I seem to recall that the 2012 Republican primary had almost as many candidates as Jesus had disciples, and they still figured it out. Would having four candidates break the cameras over at NECN?
UPDATE: To reflect substantive changes in information received from the Addivinola campaign, the title of this article and portions of the analysis have been changed to more accurately reflect Councillor Addivinola’s positions.
We gave the same questionnaire to all seven Democratic primary candidates, but the strongest opponents of government surveillance (Long, Sciortino and Spilka) did not make it through the primary. Here are the results for the remaining two candidates.
In a seven-way primary with an all-star cast, Sen. Katherine Clarkwon the nomination for Democratic candidate for the U. S. House in my own district of MA-5, one of the most Democratic districts in the nation (D+22).
She now faces Boston resident Frank Addivinola in the general, but it would essentially take a meteor strike for her to not head to Congress.
Here in the heavily Democratic Fifth District of Massachusetts, we know that the winner of October 15th’s Democratic primary will reliably win the general and go to Congress. The seat was last open almost 40 years ago. Bearing that in mind, we at Digital Fourth thought it pretty important to assess the Democratic candidates’ positions on the hot issue of surveillance, while the district’s registered Democrats still have a chance to affect the outcome.
We sent a standard questionnaire to all seven candidates running in the primary. We asked about whether the candidate supported requiring warrants for searches of digital data (ECPA reform); whether they would defund the “fusion centers” that capture data and generate reports on peaceful activists; whether they support the Mass. Attorney-General and Senator Clark’s proposal to expand electronic wiretapping; whether they would vote for the Amash-Conyers Amendment reining in the NSA; and finally, whether they would support Rep. Rush Holt (D-PA)’s “Surveillance State Repeal Act”, which would repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act and provide protection for government whistleblowers.
All except Sen. Karen Spilka and Mr. Paul John Maisano were kind enough to respond in detail, and we have done our best to reconstruct the positions of these two candidates from past votes and public statements.
UPDATE: Sen. Spilka has provided answers to the questionnaire that place her in equal first place on surveillance, along with Rep. Carl Sciortino and Mr. Martin Long.
So, for your reading pleasure, here’s the Surveillance Voter’s Guide to The Democratic Field in MA-5!
Senator Katherine Clark, the Senate Co-Chair of the Judiciary Committee who is also running for Congress in Ed Markey’s old district, is penning op-eds in defense of her positions on privacy legislation. She supports warrant protection for electronic communications, which is great news for the Fourth Amendment here in Massachusetts.
However, she also supports the Attorney-General’s proposed “update” to the wiretapping laws. Both she and the Attorney-General make the case for an update by relying heavily on a comment by Justice Gants in the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2011 ruling in Commonwealth v. Tavares. This decision overturned a (first) conviction of murderer Paulo Tavares, on the ground that the state’s evidence had been gathered in violation of the state’s electronic wiretapping laws.
Let’s look at that decision a little more closely.