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US Senators Concerned With Surveillance Bill "Loophole" 128

zer0point writes "The law lets U.S. agencies monitor the communications of foreigners outside the U.S. But two senators are questioning whether a loophole allows the storage and search of messages from Americans that are picked up inadvertently while foreigners are being monitored. The intelligence community has repeatedly said it takes steps to minimize the data collected on Americans. Among the senators’ concerns: that the administration hasn’t been able to estimate how many people in the U.S. have had their information reviewed under the program."
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US Senators Concerned With Surveillance Bill "Loophole"

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:32PM (#40289777)

    I suspect the truth is "hasn't been willing to".

    People have been willing to ignore these sorts of things since they can at least pretend it's probably doesn't involve their own information. If the truth came out, and the government admitted it was electronically sifting through virtually all internal US communications... I suspect people would start to get riled up over it.

    • by mr1911 ( 1942298 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:38PM (#40289831)
      You underestimate the apathy of the average citizen. Or overestimate their intelligence. It is hard to tell them apart sometimes.

      This is to protect the children from the terrorists. The government said so. They even nudged me and winked, so I know it is true.
      • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:01PM (#40290021)
        I don't really think it's apathy or lack of intelligence. There are plenty of people that are incredibly intelligent that do not have degrees or high paying salaried jobs. Have you ever operated heavy equipment like an excavator? I know guys that are nearly savants with those things. Not a one of them cares about politics. They chose to apply their wisdom and wits to something tangible, something they can change directly. I can understand that. So much of politics is slight of hand, trickery, lies and deceit that many people just refuse to participate any longer. I can understand that as well.
        • If more of those people actually particpated, put themselves into the mix, then perhaps they would be able to change more.

          • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:48PM (#40290379)
            The left yells you the right is trying to take away your rights. The right tells you the left is trying to take away your rights. They both tell you the other side is wrecking tgr economy. Unless you are paying VERY close attention, it's hard to sort out fact from paranoid fantasy.
            • Left? Right? You're talking about different hands of the same organism, correct? Maybe they are both right.

              • Left? Right? You're talking about different hands of the same organism, correct? Maybe they are both right.

                Just between you and me, that sounds like paranoid fantasy as well.

                • Just between you and me, that sounds like paranoid fantasy as well.

                  They shout at each other across the aisle during the day and then go to the same bars and laugh together at night. It's all a big fucking act, and the evidence is broadly available. Look at who is paying their salaries if you still don't believe...

                  • "They shout at each other across the aisle during the day" -> Of course they do. The Democrats are trying to broker a compromise with the Republicans whereby they can get access to the 'Candy Desk,' and the Republicans want nothing to do with it, because Senator What's-His-Face ends up eating all the cherry licorice.

            • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

              If only there were more parties to choose from...

              • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

                There are. There were five candidates in the last presidential election on enough ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning. The trouble is, even though they are all viable, the media refuses to acknowledge the Greens, Libertarians, and Constitutionalists. Which they do because the media are corporate-owned, and it's cheaper to bribe two candidates than it is to bribe five.

            • They're both kinda correct, and the reason is that they're focused on different sorts of rights.

              The American right is trying to take away the ability to get an abortion, to organize a union, to communicate and travel freely without being spied on by the US government, to use recreational drugs, and to protest in any meaningful way.

              The American left is trying to take away the ability of just anybody to own deadly weapons, to make contracts or sales that they consider harmful to the overall economy (particula

            • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

              The left is trying to take away some rights, the right is trying to take away different rights, both are trying to take away some of the same rights, but as to the economy, that one's simple: Bush was the only President to leave office with fewer Americans employed than when he took office. He went into office in a booming economy and left the economy in the worst shape it's been in since the Great Depression. Of course, Clinton is partly responsible for the housing/banking collapse (along with the Republic

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I don't really think it's apathy or lack of intelligence.

          He said the "average citizen." So yes, it's both apathy and a lack of intelligence. He also didn't mention anything about degrees or high-paying jobs.

        • I don't really think it's apathy or lack of intelligence

          So much of politics is slight of hand, trickery, lies and deceit that many people just refuse to participate any longer.

          How is that different from apathy? Alternatively, what is the difference between "I don't care." and "I would care, but..."?

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            How is that different from apathy?

            Completely, it's a feeling of helplessness, not apathy. It's "I would vote if it woud do any good, but both candidates have already been paid off by the anti-pot lobby and the corporations, so whichever one I pick I'm screwed anyway."

    • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:38PM (#40289841)

      It is the natural order of things for people in charge to want MORE power, not less. They are not about to give-up the ability to record Americans conversations. In fact the current government is stone-walling Congress not just on this issue (how many messages were caught "accidentally"), but also the gun-running program into Mexico.

      Congressman: "I have an email here that says you were aware of the program. It's addressed to you."
      Holder: "That refers to the previous Wide Receiver program under Bush."
      Congressman: "Uh no, the email says right here, and I quote, 'Fast&Furious'. That would be under President Obama's and your watch."
      Holder: "The email is wrong. It was Bush." :-o

    • If you don't know the government isn't monitoring you, you must assume they are?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        What you think or what you assume is irrelevant. The government is monitoring you. The government monitors as many people as their technology allows.
      • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2012 @12:17AM (#40292165)

        Before 9/11, the government already had a law in place allowing them to place wiretaps FIRST and then request a warrant up two two weeks after the fact. Post 9/11, after the Bush administration got caught systematically placing and maintaining wiretaps without a warrant, they asked for legal approval for US security agencies to use their own discretion on placing wiretaps without need of a warrant, ever. They argued the current law, requiring the eventual issue of a warrant after the fact, to be unworkable because of the sheer volume of communications they wanted to monitor.

        At that point, a lot of people who don't normally buy into conspiracy theories came to the conclusion the government intended to data-mine all telecommunications traffic in some manner. Now, we have an NSA facility being constructed in Utah - slated for completion next year, I believe - that has the openly stated purpose of doing just this.

        So, yeah - I think it's safe to assume the government is monitoring me, you, and every other US citizen.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, since the law the senators enacted (with the house and president's signature) requires us to minimize intercepts of communications of US persons, it's very hard to determine how much we've collected, since if we knew, we wouldn't collect. That's not a very satisfying answer, and I'm of course posting AC, but the truth is generally very boring.

    • by s.petry ( 762400 )

      I read a great article [] on something much bigger than what they currently do, and it's all perfectly legal according to the article. The NSA super compute center being built currently, scheduled to be on line 2013 has links already in place by agreements with the only provider for major telecom hubs in the US which is AT&T. According to the article the NSA will be snooping, storing, and even trying to crack the encryption for all internet traffic both foreign and domestic, and all without a warrant.


  • Ron Wyden (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NoKaOi ( 1415755 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:37PM (#40289821)

    When I clicked on the article I was wholly unsurprised to find Ron Wyden was one of the senators. Every time there's something in the news about a bit of sanity coming from a senator, it seems to have Ron Wyden's name. It's encouraging that there's a senator like that out there, but it's discouraging that it's only 1% of them. I wish we could get one or two of those for my state.

    • There is a reason why despite my being single-mindedly pro-life, he's the only Democrat I'll vote for.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget Bernie Sanders. I first learned of him back in the 90's when I would watch C-SPAN. Every single vote they ever held I would see the I-Yea, or I-Nea exactly as I would have voted. I later learned that the "I" was Bernie Sanders.

    • 2%. Count Mark Udall.
    • I think whats almost as discouraging is that whenever something like this appears in the news its always two and every so often three senators who are raising concerns about this stuff. Its never a large bunch =/
    • Every time there's something in the news about a bit of sanity coming from a senator, it seems to have Ron Wyden's name.

      I guess it depends on your definition of sanity. Ron Wyden is very good at scoring points by making the right kinds of noises. He depends on the Portland/Eugene vote to keep him elected, and very little on the rural parts of Oregon which are much more conservative.

      He still has to deal with the "Smith killed a kid" ad that came out after he claimed he'd run a clean campaign, at least as far as I'm concerned. It is interesting that Republican PACs are assumed to be in the pocket of the candidates they suppo

    • I just hope he limits his exposure to air travel. []
  • I'm concerned (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    with the fact that they are not concerned with the rights of people outside the Holy Land of the United States of America. Typical.
    • So do you suggest that we apply the same rules of evidence used in our courts to inelegance gathering overseas? So shall we just go to the international courts to get warrants? I don't think that's a workable solution.
      • to inelegance gathering overseas

        Man, do we have to outsource everything? If I need to gather inelegance, I can just go to my local Wal-Mart.

    • by Tanuki64 ( 989726 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:56PM (#40289987)

      with the fact that they are not concerned with the rights of people outside the Holy Land of the United States of America. Typical.

      No problem. I am not concerned with the rights of Americans, e.g. I feel free to ignore their copyrights.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just curious, can you name /any/ countries with the ability to snoop on foreigners that have proudly and legally bound themselves not to?

      EU nations not snooping on other EU nations doesn't count. (Although props to them for making a start on it.)

    • You may not have noticed, but they were elected to represent the interests of Americans. Why would they be particularly worried about whether foreigners are having their rights violated? Those foreigners are represented by governments that are supposed to be concerned about that sort of thing.
  • What...? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mitreya ( 579078 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ayertim]> on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:42PM (#40289859)

    But two senators are questioning whether a loophole allows the storage and search of messages from Americans that are picked up inadvertently while foreigners are being monitored. The intelligence community has repeatedly said it takes steps to minimize the data collected on Americans.

    What does that 2nd sentence even mean and why was it included? Either they are allowed, which case no need to minimize the data on Americans or they are not allowed to. "Taking steps to minimize" means nothing quantifiable (up to 100% reduced!).
    Even assuming I trust everyone here, that is still a totally meaningless and irrelevant statement included in the article.

    • by artor3 ( 1344997 )

      Running stop signs is illegal. Any competent driver will take steps to minimize running stop signs. But odds are you will still do it on occasion, purely by accident.

      This isn't hard to understand, unless you are actively trying not to understand it.

    • The simple solution to this problem is to throw out anybody who doesn't state unequivocally that they will stop the collection of data on US citizens.

      Senator 1: "We will take steps to minimise the collection of US communications."
      Voters: "Get out."
      Senator 2: "We will drastically reduce the scope of the project to exclude the communications of US citizens as much as possible.
      Voters: "Get out."
      Senator 3: "We will stop collecting data on communications made to and from US citizens."
      Voters: "How will you do th
      • I wish we would stop this as well, but it is not as easy as you suggest. If we made it that blanket filter against recording or collecting data from US citizens, then it would be trivial to get around any US spying. All you have to do is make sure to copy a dead US citizen's personal email and you are covered. Heck, I have an old Hotmail email that I had long stopped monitoring until I realized that Hotmail let me automatically forward my emails to gmail.

  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:49PM (#40289919)

    What this article leaves out and the reader should know, is that it is illegal for the federal government to monitor domestic communications without a warrant. There is no such protection afforded non-citizens outside of the USA. At issue is when the CIA (or other foreign intelligence gathering organization of the Federal Government) is monitoring a foreign national outside of the USA who may be talking to someone inside the states. The "loophole" they are talking about basically is that as long as the collection target is not a domestic US citizen, any information gathered is legal to keep, even if it involves a domestic party. It must also be understood that such evidence would NOT be admissible in court for a criminal trial having not been obtained though a warrant. I wonder if it could legally be used as probable cause to obtain the warrant though.

    I personally don't see the huge issue with this, unless we are seeing a rash of prosecutions based on such evidence. I have heard of no such cases. Further, unless the Fed is really not trying to filter the data at all, it is unlikely that they have much data that they have to purge. After all, this IS an investigative effort that targets non-US-citizens so it makes sense their filtering is pretty good, or this effort would be useless.

    I'll guess that the guys with the tinfoil hats who are looking for the black helicopters won't like this, but I'd be much more worried about Google or Facebook collection efforts than this.

    • by Mitreya ( 579078 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ayertim]> on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:00PM (#40290017)

      I personally don't see the huge issue with this, unless we are seeing a rash of prosecutions based on such evidence.

      "We have sought repeatedly to gain an understanding of how many Americans have had their phone calls or emails collected and reviewed under this statute, but we have not been able to obtain even a rough estimate of this number," Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado wrote ... The senators said in the report that the Director of National Intelligence had told them it was not feasible to come up with such a number.

      If nothing else, I worry that even the few senators who may be interested in protecting American rights are blatantly snubbed by the CIA when trying to do so. That doesn't concern you?

      • Congress holds the money and can choose to not fund the CIA anytime it decides to. Just remember that the CIA is a part of the *executive* branch, subject to the funding appropriation process, the Laws passed by congress and upheld by the courts. There are checks and balances here and the CIA amounts to but a small player on this stage. So I encourage the senators to do what they can to make the point if they don't get what they want from the CIA.
        • Here's a funny story about that:
          So there was this project conceived by convicted felon Adm John Poindexter called Total Information Awareness which basically amounted to spying on the Internet, including the activities of all Americans, on a mass scale. This generated a fair amount of outrage, particularly among left-wing civil libertarians, and in 2003-4 then Senator Russ Feingold and Senator Wyden were able to organize a defunding of the program ... which basically got renamed and continued on as before w

      • by Nimey ( 114278 )

        They can afford to because they've got the support of enough other senators, who can afford to because their voters either want this or don't care.

        I have argued with people who see the patriot act and TSA as good things. It's soul-crushing.

    • I personally don't see the huge issue with this

      I do. It allows the potential for abuse, and I see it as an unnecessary power to have. Especially when it allows them to spy on citizens. No, I'm not going to blindly trust the government or their filters that are supposedly "pretty good."

      I'll guess that the guys with the tinfoil hats

      You needn't have a tinfoil hat to see that humans tend to abuse their power when given too much of it. History is filled with such things, and I certainly don't want to take any unnecessary risks.

  • California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the committee, said she believes that existing provisions in the law are adequate to prevent Americansâ(TM) communications from being mishandled. ... But Sen. Feinstein said she agrees that the committee should know just how many Americans are having their communications monitored.

    I am sure Senator Feinstein will see things differently if she was spied upon. And, even more interestingly, "Americans' communication ... being mishandled" really depends on her definition "mishandled". Maybe she believes that not spell-checking the permanent records is "mishandling", but spying itself is fine?
    As always, it is great to see that the only meaningful debate (which may or may not result in any changes) is whether the senators should be kept in the loop. Nothing about protecting Americans f

    • I am sure Senator Feinstein will see things differently if she was spied upon.

      She doesn't have to worry about that, she plays ball.

      • That's naive.

        The ones that play ball are the ones with the most known about them. If you have a bought stooge, you want to make sure they stay bought. Never run the risk of having loose lips sinking your ships. Always have a sword of damoclese hanging over their heads to keep them in line with your goals.

        Anyone who can't see how the military industrial complex and its intelligence arms are controlling US politics along side other corporate interests needs to have their brains examined. Follow the money. T

        • The point here, though, is that the stooge only thinks they can get away.

          No, the point here is that she is not trying to get away. She has played her role faithfully all along and I expect her to do so until death. That doesn't mean they don't spy on her, but it means they don't have to do it so much. Just watch out for exceptions and flag on them, no big deal.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Spying on citizens not under your own authority illegal?

    The US government seams to freak out when foreign citizens spy on it yet it seams to be ok when it does it to them.

    • I don't think you are understanding the character of this issue. Yes, foreign spies operating in the US need to be worried, and yes we should and do take steps to deal with such activities. I expect other countries to do the same for spies located in their borders... But at issue here is intelligence gathered from domestic sources about foreign communications. Basically the law gives the CIA the right to monitor communications that cross our borders, despite the fact that at least one side of the conversa

      • Yes, exactly what do other nations do in regard to monitoring communications with foreign nationals?

        Could it be that they engage in this stuff too? Why don't we see articles discussing legislative hearings on their policies on Slashdot?

      • Seems our constitution does a good job of protecting us from such abuses, or at least it has so far.

        Like from the TSA and the Patriot Act? Then again, it really doesn't matter much how the US compares to other countries. That won't determine whether or not the US is doing a good job.

  • NSA Response: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:03PM (#40290033) Homepage Journal
    "Nothing to see here Senator Likes-to-be-spanked-by-nuns-while-wearing-diapers and Senator No personally-identifying information is being collected and certainly wouldn't get out unless completely by accident."
    • I've often wondered who Anthony Weiner [] ticked off, too. I should point out that the picture that caused the entire scandal was not something that actually showed his face, so it's quite possible what actually happened was that somebody hacked his phone, put an image of some guy's weiner and sent it to a believable and pretty young woman (who might also have been on payroll), who then went to the news media.

  • I hate to do it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:07PM (#40290059)
    I hate to do it, but someone has to.
    How many people have been killed by international terrorists on US soil in all of history?
    How much have we spend on counter-terrorism efforts in the past 10 years?
    Do some math... and we're spending billions per civilian life to stop terrorist attacks.
    Lets just stop for a while and see what happens.

    Now you're going to jump up and yell "That's cold! It's horrible! How could you?!?!"
    Well, yea... fine, I'll accept that. But what if we instead spent all those billions on cancer research?
    Not only would we save far more lives, over a much longer term, but dieing from cancer is plain and simple a worse way to die that having your plane blown up or crashed.
    Counter terrorism is an excuse to maintain our cold-war levels of military readiness that simply are not needed any longer. We need to stop, and think before we spend and bomb.
  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:09PM (#40290065) Journal

    She pointed out that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has repeatedly found that the collection program is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution

    Secret court decides that its reason to exist is legal..... news at 11:00

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If any information is collected by real time surveillance of any sort without a judicial ruling pertaining to a particular person for particular stuff, AND NO ADVERSARY WAS AVAILABLE TO OBJECT, then it can never be used in evidence for any domestic civil, criminal, administrative case or any other legal proceeding with consequences to the subject at all. Zero tolerance. Cite precedent that the government itself uses zero tolerance in many legal actions.

    Submitted for approval. GFL.


  • Oh no, god forbid "Americans" are subject to the same treatment as that which they mete out. The self perceived exceptionalism of the US is so jarring, created equal indeed.
    • It may be difficult for you to accept this, but many Americans are against a lot of what our government does in the name of our safety and interests. I know that foreign stereotypes of Americans are well-ingrained and constantly reinforced by the foreign media, but you could exercise your critical thinking organ a bit here.

    • Chill.

      The government of ANY country can legally spy on foreign nationals if they choose to do so.

      Whether any particular government can spy on its own citizens (with or without a warrant) is that government's (and those citizens') business.

      So, we'll worry about our government spying on us, and you can worry about your government spying on you....

  • Its the ONLY time congress 'cares' about our rights and wave their 'look at me flag'. As soon as the elections are over, it will be back to business as usual.

    They don't care, they never have, never will.

  • "that the administration hasnâ(TM)t been able to estimate how many people in the U.S. have had their information reviewed under the program." So unless I'm mistaken I pretty sure communications going through other countries don't have some kind of "this is a us comms" tag. Ya, you MIGHT be able to use an IP but with the nature of the Internet and routing it's pretty easy to get that mucked up. So that said, how do you count the number of communications collected on US persons if your not sure where th
  • It's not OK to spy on Americans, but not a problem to spy on foreigners?


  • The vote in May for ending the 'Forever War' warrantless wiretapping of US citizens was 2 to 13. Just two of fifteen US Senators believe the Rule of Law is a concept still worth defending.

    If it wasn't clear already, this was confirmation the conversion of the US into police state continues unabated. A point the leadership of both parties are in agreement.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly