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White House Pressures Legislators Into Gutting USA FREEDOM Act 284

Posted by Soulskill
from the too-bad-everybody-moved-their-indignation-over-to-net-neutrality dept.
The U.S. House of Representatives has substantially reduced the effectiveness of the USA FREEDOM Act, a surveillance reform bill that sought to end mass collection of U.S. citizens' data. House Leadership was pressured by the Obama Administration to weaken many of the bill's provisions. The EFF and the Center for Democracy & Technology had both given their backing to the bill earlier this month, but they've now withdrawn their support. CDT Senior Counsel Harley Geiger said, "The Leadership of the House is demonstrating that it wants to end the debate about surveillance, rather than end bulk collection. As amended, the bill may not prevent collection of data on a very large scale in a manner that infringes upon the privacy of Americans with no connection to a crime or terrorism. This is quite disappointing given the consensus by the public, Congress, the President, and two independent review groups that ending bulk collection is necessary."

Robyn Greene of the Open Technology Institute added, "We are especially disappointed by the weakening of the language intended to prohibit bulk collection of innocent Americans’ records. Although we are still hopeful that the bill’s language will end the bulk collection of telephone records and prevent indiscriminate collection of other types of records, it may still allow data collection on a dangerously massive scale. Put another way, it may ban ‘bulk’ collection of all records of a particular kind, but still allow for ‘bulky’ collection impacting the privacy of millions of people. Before this bill becomes law, Congress must make clear—either through amendments to the bill, through statements in the legislative record, or both—that mass collection of innocent people’s records isn’t allowed."
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White House Pressures Legislators Into Gutting USA FREEDOM Act

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  • For a second I thought they were "gutting" it in a good way.

    How naive of me :-(

    • by NotDrWho (3543773)

      The typical White House approach to any threat like this (and both GW and Obama have used this approach many times) is to call together all the parties involved (especially the politicians) and ask them "Do you really want us to have to blame you if there is another terrorist attack?" Scares the shit out of any politician.

      • >Scares the shit out of any politician.

        Which is totally understandable. I sure wouldn't want to be the person who got a bunch of people killed by limiting surveillance. I'd have to be very, very sure that the surveillance was truly inappropriate, and it would be very easy to doubt yourself with that kind of pressure on.
        • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @03:33PM (#47059165)

          I sure wouldn't want to be the person who got a bunch of people killed by limiting surveillance.

          Wouldn't matter if you "got them killed" or not. The powers who want to stop your reforms would still blame you.

          An attack *IS* coming, regardless. And they *WILL* blame you for it if you don't do what they tell you to. Now fall in line, bitch.

      • by ArmoredDragon (3450605) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:08PM (#47060299)

        "Do you really want us to have to blame you if there is another terrorist attack?" Scares the shit out of any politician.

        Political squabbles aside, if Benghazi is any indication for how Washing treats information it receives about actual terror threats (as opposed to just imagined ones) then the NSA spying doesn't even serve its supposed purpose anyways. That is to say, they were well aware in advance that something was going to happen, and deliberately chose not to act on it. Meanwhile we have to have our domestic IT industry is being crushed (e.g. Cisco losing foreign customers) and businesses like Lavabit forced to close because we absolutely MUST have this spying program to gather information that we don't even bother to use correctly.

        Ditto for the Boston bomber (another incident which we had intelligence on before the fact, but didn't act on, and we didn't even need a spying program to obtain this information.)

        Though as a direct response to your question, if Benghazi is any indication, then instead of identifying incidents as a straight up terror attack for the politicians to be held accountable for, they'll simply find something innocuous to blame it on (in this case a poorly made movie that nobody gives a shit about.)

    • by Jeff Flanagan (2981883) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @03:25PM (#47059069)
      I understand your assumption, usually a bill with a name like the USA FREEDOM act is about taking away freedom.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      They did.

      "First and foremost, the bill introduces a different conceptual approach to prohibiting mass spying under Section 215. Unlike the Senate version, which tries to stop the mass collection of calling records by mandating that the records sought "pertain to" an agent of a foreign power or their activities—an approach that we’ve worried about because “pertains to” and “relevant” are so similar—the House version mandates that a "specific selection term" (currentl

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:44PM (#47058597)

    Only the RIGHT is evil! OBAMA is our Lord and Savior! This must be a ploy by the right to make him look bad!

  • by rritterson (588983) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:45PM (#47058613)

    There is an apparent and obvious change between pre-Presidential Obama's and Presidential Obama's actions and opinions on surveillance. What's the cause? Is it:

    1. Lobbying money from parties that gain from the intelligence industry?

    2. Access to top secret data that still hasn't been released showing a compelling need for this information gathering?

    3. Some sort of extortion/blackmail information on Obama possessed by someone in intelligence?

    4. A realization that most Americans don't actually care about the scope of surveillance, so he wants to appear "tough on terror"?

    5. Something else (fill in your own blank)

    Recall that he stated strongly that he thought AT&T should pay a legal penalty for the NSA/San Francisco wiretapping mess, then reversed his position and supported immunity for AT&T almost immediately after taking office. That suggests he either learned whatever it was very quickly, or was deceiving us as a candidate.

    • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:48PM (#47058641) Journal

      I think you listed them in ascending order of likelihood.

      Maybe 5 is "he was just playing us for suckers on the campaign trail."

      • by drpimp (900837)

        I think you listed them in ascending order of likelihood.

        Maybe 5 is "he was just playing us for suckers on the campaign trail."

        Isn't your suggestion what ALL politicians do? Obammers isn't any different.

    • He Knows Power (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:53PM (#47058715)

      Recall that he stated strongly

      Recall that he states everything strongly, often against something he stated strongly before. Therefore only pay attention to what he does and you'll see the true picture.

      Extensive surveillance is not just great for catching terrorists, but finding out who is a conservative and what they are doing you can use the keep them quiet.

      • by Tailhook (98486)

        Recall that he states everything strongly

        Barry says "MAKE NO MISTAKE!" and libtards planet-wide get a tingle. He was doing it again this morning with the VA scandal, amped up so high he was clipping. They're so impressed with his political theater they bounce around the Internets with weasel words like "stated strongly" and are astonished when people point and laugh.

      • Domestic surveillance is a great way to control who gets in office, and selective law enforcement when everyone is breaking the law is a great way to quell the public trying to change the status quo.

        But we don't need domestic spying to uncover Conservatives and if making them quiet were the goal -- they've failed on both counts.

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      there really wasnt much of a change in reality. the only difference is th posturing involved. Pre president obama LOVED to talk about how X is bad and Y is wrong, but when it came time to vote, he voted present, rather than pick a side over 100 different times. The things obama said back then (raising the debt ceiling is unamerican) definitely go against what he has done since taking office
    • by zlives (2009072)

      he is a politician and lied like they all do. Nope to Change was the actual slogan, we just misread it.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        No we misinterpreted it. he was looking for spare CHANGE.
        Most of his funding came from "micro" donations. He was asking for Change as in small bills and coins.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Liberals 2008: "Bush is a liar! Obama will tell the truth!"
        Liberals 2014: "All politicians lie."

    • by somedudegeekman (3660883) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:57PM (#47058765)
      I agree with your points, and I would add:

      5. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

      I apologize for the cliche, but I think the kind of narcissistic tendencies one needs to have in order to be a successful politician can't turn away from the ability to find out everything about your political enemies. Even from a practical standpoint, that kind of leverage is just too good to resist if you're owned lock/stock/barrel by your campaign contributors and you need to deliver legislation favoring X industry or Y company.
    • Try:

      6. Like all politicians, he told people what they wanted to hear, so they would vote him into power, after which (again, like all politicians) he put his real agenda into action.

      • by tranquilidad (1994300) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @03:24PM (#47059061)

        No, it's worse than that.

        Obama never really said anything of substance. He said many things that led people to believe they heard what they wanted to hear; a classic move by a flim-flam man.

        A friend of mine used to be in the stock market and people would ask him, "What's the market going to do tomorrow?"

        His stock reply was, "A lot of people are going to be surprised."

        The number of people who thought he actually told them something was shocking. Obama was the same. He said a lot of things were bad but never said what he would do instead. He used the ultimate echo-chamber, a biased media, to say things for him that he never said.

      • by Bartles (1198017)
        And then they voted for him a second time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by reboot246 (623534)
      He's just a politician, not a saint. They're all like that no matter which party they're in. Government's main concern is government; they couldn't care less about you or anybody else.

      The best you can do is vote for the lesser of evils. And please vote incumbents out of office. The longer they stay there, the more power hungry and corrupt they get.
    • by naasking (94116)

      2. Access to top secret data that still hasn't been released showing a compelling need for this information gathering?

      If that were the case, he would only need to release some of that information to justify those actions. More than likely the bulk surveillance infrastructure is to maintain a political and economic advantage over other countries.

      • by tsqr (808554)

        2. Access to top secret data that still hasn't been released showing a compelling need for this information gathering?

        If that were the case, he would only need to release some of that information to justify those actions.

        I think you missed the part about the information being classified "top secret". Most classified information becomes declassified after 10 years; 25 years is fairly rare, and 50 years is almost unheard of. But the President can't just declassify top secret information because he wants it released.

        • But the President can't just declassify top secret information because he wants it released.

          Yes, actually he can.

          He's the head of the Executive Branch, for God's sake! If he wants something unclassified, all he has to do is give the order, and it is so.

          Do try to remember that last really good President we had, and the sign on his desk - "The Buck Stops Here"

    • 6. He was lying

    • by jittles (1613415)
      I'm pretty sure he voted in favor of telecom immunity prior to being elected into office, while he was still in the senate.
    • by maharvey (785540)
      Possibly he got into office and found out who really runs the USA, and what happens to presidents who don't toe the line.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Considering what seems to have been change, it's not 'Gutted' it's different. The term gutted is just being used for FUD. for example:

      First and foremost, the bill introduces a different conceptual approach to prohibiting mass spying under Section 215. Unlike the Senate version, which tries to stop the mass collection of calling records by mandating that the records sought "pertain to" an agent of a foreign power or their activities—an approach that we’ve worried about because “pertains to

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...or rise up.

    Normal channels aren't working, but things aren't 'bad enough' for a sufficient number of people to do anything (yet).

    I hope I get to see a peaceful revolution in my lifetime.

    • I'd say if you have another 10-15 years of life left in you, you will, no matter where you live.

      • by Anon-Admin (443764) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @03:04PM (#47058873) Journal

        I'd say if you have another 10-15 years of life left in you, you will, no matter where you live.

        I have heard that statement made many times over the last 30 years. It has yet to happen and I dont think it will.

        The truth is that Bush Sr, GW Bush, and Obama are all the same. There is no difference between Dem. and Rep. It all boils down to money and power, nether gives a S**T about the people.

          I only hope that some day enough people wake up and say F*** IT, then vote third party. I would love to see a three way tie or even a race between three parties that comes down to less than 1% difference.

      • Addendum: Whoops I didn't notice the "peaceful" part...no guarantees on that.

    • I was in San Francisco a few months ago, and ran into a protest from 99 Rise [99rise.org]. As best I can figure out, they're what happened to Occupy San Francisco. (this was right after the supreme court decision that allowed corporate spending on elections)

      I have no idea what the other Occupy groups are doing now, but they're still out there.

  • Pressure? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak@@@eircom...net> on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:47PM (#47058637) Homepage Journal

    House Leadership was pressured by the Obama Administration to weaken many of the bill's provisions.

    Pressured how? They sent lots of Emails with "RE:" in the subject title? Many phone calls were made? The people who took you to lunch chuckled at public "hysteria"? Somebody insinuated they might have the ability to strike a committee to consider, in the fullness of time, whether pork due to your constituency -- if any -- might be placed under a possible pending review?

    Would the house leadership describe the "pressure" placed by the Administration as "Overwhelming", "Compelling", or merely "Gentle but Firm"? Which one of these do Legislators consider as an excuse to justify gutting the Act?

    The story is BS, and pure optics. The house leadership had no intention of passing the bill ungutted.

    • Re:Pressure? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xaedalus (1192463) <Xaedalys@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:50PM (#47058677)
      Why would the House cave to the White House? Particularly the House Leadership? To Obama? Nahh... methinks they're using this as an excuse to gin up support, plus set up things for a Republican President.
      • by slinches (1540051)

        Why would the House cave to the White House?

        How about because the President would veto the bill without the changes and there aren't enough votes to pass it with a 2/3 majority as-is?

    • I have to agree. If "pressure" from the White House could make a difference, it would make a difference in more legislation than this, but it hasn't.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Charliemopps (1157495)

      1. The president wont endorse you in the next election.
      2. The president will veto all your bills
      3. The president will blame future terrorist attacks on you.
      4. The president will move future defense contracts out of your state.
      5. The president wont invite you to the whitehouse for photo ops.
      6. The president will show up in your home town next time you're supposed to give a speech before an election, stealing the show and making all your voters forget about you.
      7. Maybe you'd like to see YOUR NSA file Mr Cong

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:49PM (#47058653)

    Just in case you still thought the roots of fascism came from anything other than claiming to care about those they rule over - as the news about the freedom act being gutted shows.

    Liberal Fascism [amazon.com]

    Also think strongly on this the next time you do not vote Libertarian because it's a "wasted vote".

    • Only people who don't understand what "Liberal" or "Fascism" mean think that Liberal Fascism is a thing. Jonah Goldberg is a kook, just like everyone involved with the conservative grift. Why do you fall for conservative nonsense and paranoia? Have you not noticed how dishonest it all is?
      • Have you not noticed how dishonest it all is?

        He says in a story about how a liberal president is gutting improvements to a Freedom Act that actually bring freedom...

        Read the book. It's not dishonest at all, its a revealing trip through history

    • Liberal Fascism [amazon.com]

      Save your money. If you want it, you can probably pick up a cheap copy at your local thrift store.

  • by dcollins (135727) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:52PM (#47058691) Homepage

    The House Leadership is all GOP. They've claimed that their number one priority is stopping whatever Obama wants. Mostly they've done that -- except on this one single thing, namely freedom online, they decide to roll over. So this serves as a pretty good test for both parties as to what their true priorities are.

    Obama's a pretty terrible President, but when push comes to shove it's a good check-in that the reason for that is that he really wants the same things as the GOP.

    • by qeveren (318805) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @02:55PM (#47058739)

      Well, political-spectrum-wise, Obama sits right where Saint Reagan does, so this isn't all that surprising.

      • by reboot246 (623534)
        You need to get another spectrum. Yours seems to be broken.
        • by Jeff Flanagan (2981883) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @03:44PM (#47059297)
          No, his is correct. Republicans used to be a lot more sane than they are now. And Democrats are more sane than they used to be. Both parties moved to the right, and the Republicans went so far right as to be unrecognizable as the party of Lincoln, or even Eisenhower.

          Oddly, many of the more conservative Republicans still claim to be the party of Lincoln, when really they're confederates who want to break up the US because our president isn't 100% white. They think they can take credit for Lincoln, as if the conservative takeover of the party didn't drive every progressive like Lincoln out.
          • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @04:30PM (#47059821)

            No, his is correct. Republicans used to be a lot more sane than they are now. And Democrats are more sane than they used to be. Both parties moved to the right, and the Republicans went so far right as to be unrecognizable as the party of Lincoln, or even Eisenhower.

            By agreeing that Obama is like Reagan and claiming that Republicans used to be more sane, you seem to imply that Obama is sane too. You also claim that both parties have moved more "right" (i.e., "conservative").

            Neither of these things is the case. What's actually occurred is that the President, the Republicans and the Democrats have all become much more authoritarian (and corrupt) than they used to be. They have not moved "right", they've moved up [wikipedia.org].

        • No, Obama isn't Reagan, but Obama isn't even close to being a liberal. The last real liberal president the US had was Carter.
      • by asylumx (881307)

        political-spectrum-wise, Obama sits right where Saint Reagan does

        I'm surprised how many people refuse to admit this...

        • by Terwin (412356) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @04:42PM (#47059979)

          political-spectrum-wise, Obama sits right where Saint Reagan does

          I'm surprised how many people refuse to admit this...

          Hmm...
          Regan:
          Reduced the number of tax brackets and substantially reduced the top marginal rate
          Increased defense spending
          Strongly opposed the USSR and 'damn commies' world wide
          Used the cold-war arms race(including threats of the 'star wars' system) to bankrupt the USSR and remove them from 'World Power' status
          Stood by Americas international allies and faced down potential threats, even if it meant American boots on the ground
          Tried to unite the country with patriotism
          Repeatedly took his case to the American people to get them to change the votes of their legislators(explaining his position and why it was the right thing to do)
          Took a stagnant economy and promoted growth(mostly through lower taxes and consumer confidence)

          Obama:
          Tax increases on 'the wealthiest Americans' to pay for various programs(including ACA)
          Is pumping money into the stock market(either to hide the state of the economy or pay-off contributors, not sure which)
          Is standing by while Putin re-builds the USSR
          Draws 'red lines' or promotes hash-tags whenever there is something bad happening, but does not back them up.
          Puts American diplomats in harms way to prove terrorism is gone, then blames a video when the terrorists show they are not gone
          Tries to divide the country with racism(Rev. Al Sharpton; New Black Panthers; Prof. Gates; etc)
          Repeatedly changed laws passed by the house and senate by either refusing to enforce them(border/immigration; Black Panther voter intimidation) or delaying enforcement(ACA) under his own authority
          Repeatedly lied about his signature legislation to protect it from being seen for what it is.
          Took a growing economy and promoted stagnation(mostly through uncertainty and higher taxes intermingled with one time give-aways to buy votes)

          Admittedly, they both promoted growth in the stock market, even if Regan did it through growth and Obama is doing it through government backed bonds.
          Aside from that, I just do not see it.

      • Obama sits right where Saint Reagan does

        Actually it's St. Reagan

      • by slinches (1540051) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @04:37PM (#47059921)

        How so? I've heard this claimed a few times, but there never seems to be any substance to back it up. Searching for "Obama Reagan policy comparison" just turns up a bunch of blog posts with obvious biases (of all types) and poor arguments backed up with cherry picked anecdotes and intentionally misleading data.

    • All that it means is what we've known for the last twenty years or so.
      It doesn't matter who is president or who is in congress.
      The real power is controlled by the lobbyists for those with the most money and power.
      The charade of representative democracy is wearing quite thin indeed.
      Republican or Democrat, they both kowtow to the 1% and their aims.
  • Everything will be done by shrewd politicians to distance themselves from Obama/Obamacare etc. to appease or confuse voters (in the short and perhaps long term?) that Obama is at fault here... Meanwhile, all of them secretly never wanted to do this...
  • Yes, I'm sure their arms were twisted.
  • by RandCraw (1047302) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @03:26PM (#47059079)

    Unless this law explicitly and forcefully disallows bulk warrantless data collection of the public, NSA's top creeps (like Clapper and Alexander) and unprincipled gov't lawyers (like John Yoo) most certainly will crush the Constitution underfoot at their earliest convenience.

    Anything else is just rearranging deck chairs...

  • by Calibax (151875) * on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @04:01PM (#47059451)

    The GOP has made it very, very clear that anything that Obama favors will automatically receive a negative from the House of Representatives that they control. They have done this multiple times. They have openly stated that their primary objective is to oppose Obama on everything.

    Now I'm supposed to believe that Obama pressured the GOP to weaken the bill? That seems... laughable. The GOP would never bow to Obama's requests - they have their image to consider. It seems more likely that the GOP revised the bill because Obama said he supported it in its original form.

    It's also strange that the mainstream press doesn't seem to have picked up on such a monumental achievement by Obama. I'd have expected that any such successful pressure from the White House on the GOP would be a major headline in most newspapers that cover US national politics. But the best we get is a press release from the Center for Democracy and Technology. The EFF also had a press release about the amendments to the bill but they don't suggest that the White House or Obama was generating any pressure for the changes.

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