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Nederlog

May 24, 2015
Crisis: Surveillance, TPP, Fast Track, NSA, Patriot Act
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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Sections
Introduction

1.
'Historic Tactical Win Against Surveillance' as USA
     Freedom Act Fails in Senate

2. The TPP Is a Grave Threat to Climate Action
3.
Senate Passes Fast Track Bill as Opposition Readies for
     Showdown

4. NSA bulk phone records collection to end despite USA
     Freedom Act failure
   
5. FBI Confirms No Major Terrorism Cases Cracked Via
     Unconstitutional Patriot Act Phone Spying



This is a Nederlog of Sunday, May 24, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article on Common Dreams, that concludes that part of the surveillance that is happening in the US since 2001 probably will be stopped; item 2 is about an article by Naomi Klein that correctly diagnosis the TPP as a grave threat to democracy; item 3 is about an article that notes the TPP has gotten a Fast Track in the Senate, but not in the House (that seems against it); item 4 is about an article on The Guardian that explains why the NSA collecting bulk phone records probably will stop (in one of its forms); and item 5 is about an article on Washington's Blog that explains that the battle against surveillance is far from won.

Also, this file got uploaded quite early, and may be one of the earliest Nederlogs ever - which gives me occasion to enjoy the weather in Amsterdam, which is fine.

Finally, though I am still hesitant, this is one of the least pessimistic Nederlogs in two years (at least), mostly because at least part of the bulk surveillance the NSA did (which also was totally fruitless as far as terrorism was concerned) will have to be stopped. (But see item 5.)
1. 'Historic Tactical Win Against Surveillance' as USA Freedom Act Fails in Senate

The first item today is an article by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:

This has a subtitle which I quote because it helps some:
"The failure of these bills to pass shows just how dramatically the politics of surveillance changed once the extent of the government’s surveillance programs became known to the public."
But this doesn't mean I agree, even though the quote is true as far as it goes. Here is the beginning of the article:

In a move that is being hailed by civil liberties advocates as a victory for privacy rights, the U.S. Senate on Friday rejected the USA Freedom Act, a bill that sought to rein in the National Security Agency's (NSA) spying powers but that would have reauthorized some of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

By a vote of 57-42, the Senate did not pass the bill that would have required 60 votes to move forward, which means that the NSA must start winding down its domestic mass surveillance program this week. The Senate also rejected a two-month extension of the existing program by 54-45, also short of the necessary 60 votes.

The Obama administration had previously warned Congress that if the Senate was unable to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act by May 31, which the NSA leans on to justify its mass surveillance program, the government would need to launch its shutdown of the phone records collection operation ahead of time. With the U.S. House of Representatives already gone for Memorial Day holiday, the Senate had until this weekend to resolve its gridlock.

Section 215 is set to expire on June 1 absent congressional action.

The House voted in favor of the USA Freedom Act earlier this month.

This is at least a good factual resumé. This continues as follows, which may be right for all I know, though it does seem a bit early to me:

Calling the vote a historic departure from the Patriot Act, "Sunsetting the Patriot Act is the biggest win for ending mass surveillance programs," Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a coalition of civil liberties and privacy rights organizations, said in response to the vote. "We are seeing history in the making and it was because the public stood up for our rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association—and there’s no turning back now."

This was a "historic tactical win against surveillance," Cheng added.

And this is the end of the article:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a Republican presidential candidate who spent more than 10 hours on Wednesday night filibustering McConnell's attempts to vote on the Patriot Act, said early Saturday morning that the Senate's move "is only the beginning."

"We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security," Paul said in a statement. "This is only the beginning—the first step of many. I will continue to do all I can until this illegal government spying program is put to an end, once and for all."

"These bills were an attempt to disregard the abuses revealed by Snowden and cement mass surveillance into law in defiance of the Constitution, the courts, and public sentiment," said Jeff Lyon, CTO of Fight for the Future. "The failure of these bills to pass shows just how dramatically the politics of surveillance changed once the extent of the government’s surveillance programs became known to the public."

That seems correct to me, which does mean that, mostly because of Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and some other radical journalists,
it seems as if the relentless onslaught of the NSA of freedom and liberty, and towards authoritarianism and totalitarianism, at least has been halted.

And that is a major and quite positive result, although I confess I am not certain till June. (Also, see item 5.)

2.
The TPP Is a Grave Threat to Climate Action

The next item today is an article by Naomi Klein on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows, and is all true to the best of my knowledge:

Dear MoveOn member,

I’m writing because President Obama and the U.S. Congress need to hear from you before they rush toward approving a massive new trade agreement that would benefit corporations and undercut serious efforts to fight climate change.

This deal—the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP—has been called “NAFTA on steroids.” It’s the latest and largest in a series of international agreements that have attacked working women and men, fueled mindless and carbon-intensive consumption, and prevented governments from enforcing their own laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

NAFTA-esque deals around the world have been a disaster for democracy, good jobs, and environmental justice, which is why I hope you’ll click here and sign the petition to stop the TPP from being rushed through Congress.

Trade deals such as NAFTA and the TPP bestow corporations with outrageous new powers, including the right to directly challenge participating governments for enacting any measures that jeopardize their profits. These corporate grievances are heard by unelected, unaccountable trade tribunals—and as history has shown, the energy and mining giants will seize on them to try to gut all manner of environmental laws.

Existing trade deals and World Trade Organization rules are already being used to block subsidies for renewable energy and other supports for the clean energy sector. And the expansion of such agreements has gone hand in hand with the accelerating rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

There is considerably more in the article, but I agree: The TTP and the TTIP must be stopped.

3. 
Senate Passes Fast Track Bill as Opposition Readies for Showdown
The next item is an article by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

At the tail end of a frenzied legislative week, the U.S. Senate quietly voted to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as "Fast Track," a bill that would give President Barack Obama increased power to ram through trade deals without congressional input.

The Senate voted 62-37 to approve a six-year renewal of Fast Track authority. The vote was expected, coming just days after the Senate voted to end debate over the legislation and move forward with the bill, which will now go to the U.S. House for what the Associated Press says will be a "highly unpredictable summer showdown".

About 20 Democrat-backed amendments to the legislation failed along the way, frustrating senators who oppose Fast Track as a threat to the economy and workers' rights. (...)

As Common Dreams has previously reported, "Environmental, labor, food safety, public health, and digital rights groups oppose Fast Track on the grounds that it forces Congress to abdicate its policy-making responsibility while greasing the skids for secretly negotiated, corporate-friendly, rights-trampling trade pacts like the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. "
There is also this, a little further on:

According to The Hill, "Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who led the opposition of liberal Democrats in the upper chamber, has already met Democratic House allies such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Mass.) to build a roadblock."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for president as a Democrat, lambasted the Senate's vote on Saturday. "The Senate just put the interests of powerful multi-national corporations, drug companies and Wall Street ahead of the needs of American workers," Sanders said in a statement. "If this disastrous trade agreement is approved, it will throw Americans out of work while companies continue moving operations and good-paying jobs to low-wage countries overseas," he continued, referring to Obama's plan to use Fast Track authority to expedite passage of the TPP.

So: While the result in the Senate is disappointing, the struggle against the TTP continues in the House.

4. NSA bulk phone records collection to end despite USA Freedom Act failure

The next item is an article by Spencer Ackerman on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

Even as the Senate remains at an impasse over the future of US domestic surveillance powers, the National Security Agency will be legally unable to collect US phone records in bulk by the time Congress returns from its Memorial Day vacation.

The administration, as suggested in a memo it sent Congress on Wednesday, declined to ask a secret surveillance court for another 90-day extension of the order necessary to collect US phone metadata in bulk. The filing deadline was Friday, hours before the Senate failed to come to terms on a bill that would have formally repealed the NSA domestic surveillance program.

“We did not file an application for reauthorization,” an administration official confirmed to the Guardian on Saturday.

The administration decision ensures that beginning at 5pm ET on 1 June, for the first time since October 2001 the NSA will no longer collect en masse Americans’ phone records.

It represents a quiet, unceremonious end to the most domestically acrimonious NSA program revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, in a June 2013 exposé in the Guardian – effectively preempting a bid by GOP leader Mitch McConnell to retain it. But McConnell and other Senate Republicans intend to continue their fight to preserve both that program and other broad surveillance powers under the Patriot Act.

This also is a good summary. There is also this, further down:

McConnell will reconvene the Senate on 31 May to attempt to settle the issue. Even if he can pass his temporary extension, all of Section 215 will still expire, since the House left on Thursday having overwhelmingly approved the Freedom Act and will not return until 1 June.

With the two houses of Congress at odds, privacy advocates prepared themselves for a circumstance they had been unable to engineer since 2001: the wholesale rollback of a wide swath of post-9/11 domestic surveillance.

And there is this (which explains my own uncertainty):

Until 31 May the NSA, the FBI, privacy advocates and legislators on all sides of the issue are in a state of uncertainty over the scope and reach of domestic US surveillance. Advocates of the USA Freedom Act in the House warned all week that the House would not restore the status quo ante on surveillance, particularly since a federal appeals court on 7 May ruled the NSA bulk phone records collection illegal.

But should McConnell prevail in the Senate on 31 May, the coalition around the USA Freedom Act will be put to the test as never before.

The article ends as follows:

On Saturday privacy campaigners, on the verge of a goal that seemed unrealistic weeks ago, were cautiously optimistic.

“No matter what comes next, tonight’s rejections of the extension of Section 215 represent a victory for democracy over totalitarianism; for open government over secret law; for reasonability over hysteria,” said David Segal of Demand Progress after the vote.

“Those who helm the government’s surveillance apparatus have engaged in craven abuse of already overly-expansive spying powers that do nothing to reduce the threat of terrorism, but pose ongoing threats to privacy, freedom, and democratic governance.”

Yes, indeed.

5.
FBI Confirms No Major Terrorism Cases Cracked Via Unconstitutional Patriot Act Phone Spying

The final item today is an article by Mike Krieger on Washington's Blog (and originally on Liberty Blitzkrieg):

This starts as follows (and is the beginning of a good longer article - and I copy its initial illustration, because that is very correct):


FBI agents can’t point to any major terrorism cases they’ve cracked thanks to the key snooping powers in the Patriot Act, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report Thursday that could complicate efforts to keep key parts of the law operating.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that between 2004 and 2009, the FBI tripled its use of bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows government agents to compel businesses to turn over records and documents, and increasingly scooped up records of Americans who had no ties to official terrorism investigations.

– From the Washington Times article: FBI Admits No Major Cases Cracked with Patriot Act Snooping Powers 

Note that the very honest Keith Alexander (former NSA chief) claimed several tens of successes. Well... no: He lied, and there were none.

There is a lot more in the article, including copies of 5 mostly blacked out pages of Section 215, one of the most horrible parts of the "laws" that allowed the NSA to demand everything from anyone in complete secret (see e.g. here: October 4, 2013 on Lavabit and its courageous owner) and the article is good and recommended.

It ends as follows, also correctly, I think:
The battle to push back the American Stasi is just beginning.
And you should read this article if you want to know how much remains to be done. 
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