Paul begins Patriot Act filibuster

Presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul took to the Senate floor Wednesday, in what the Kentucky Republican’s staff is calling a long-anticipated filibuster of extending the Patriot Act.

"I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged," the Kentucky Republican said from the Senate floor. "The bulk collection of all Americans phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the fourth amendment."

Separately, Paul tweeted that he had taken to the Senate floor "to begin a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal."

Paul suggested that the agency’s phone collection program could be the "tip of the iceberg" of the government’s surveillance practices. He said Americans must "decide as a country whether we value our Bill of Rights … or if we are willing to give that up so we feel safer."

The Kentucky Republican also slammed President Obama for not shutting down the NSA’s program in the wake of the a court ruling that determined the program is illegal.
"Where is the executive?" Paul asked. "How come the press gives him a free pass?

The Senate is currently debating "fast-track" trade legislation, with a procedural vote expected Thursday, so Paul is actually blocking his Senate colleagues from offering, debating and voting on amendments to that bill — something Democrats were quick to highlight.

Still, Paul appears poised to deliver a long speech from the floor that could tie up the Senate for hours.

Paul has made his opposition to NSA surveillance one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign, and has pledged that he would end the "unconstitutional" program on his first day in the White House.

As he began Wednesday’s speech, Paul’s campaign blasted out an email on the NSA speech to supporters, seeking to build momentum.

"I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand," Paul wrote in the email.

The note to supporters included a link to Paul’s campaign website where supporters could "join the filibuster" by filing out their name, email and zip code.

Paul has used the Seante floor to his advantage before, famously staging a 13-hour filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan in 2013. On Wednesday, Paul suggested that without his speech, there wouldn’t be a real debate in Congress on the Patriot Act.

"We are mired in a debate over trade. There’s another debate over the highway bill and the word is, we won’t actually get any time to debate if we’re going to abridge the Fourth Amendment," he said.

Senators are facing a looming deadline for action on the Patriot Act, with key provisions set to expire June 1.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged a vote on the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. Under the bill, the agency would have to ask private companies for a narrow set of phone records tied to a particular case. The NSA would also no longer hold the phone records in a government database.

Still, it’s not clear whether the USA Freedom Act can garner the needed 60 votes in the Senate.
McConnell and other top Republicans oppose the USA Freedom Act and are pushing to pass a "clean" extension of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the NSA uses to justify its phone records program.

If both bills fail, the Senate could be forced to pass a short-term extension of the spy powers — though it’s unclear whether a stopgap measure could pass muster with the House, which passed the USA Freedom Act last week in a resounding vote.

— This story was updated at 2:42 p.m.

Tags: Rand Paul, National security, Mass surveillance, Filibuster, National Security Agency, Patriot Act

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The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post. We can’t let them make up the rules

 

Innocent people’s lives are being ruined. Why isn’t anyone watching the watchlist?

Arjun Sethi

theguardian.com, Saturday 30 August 2014 09.00 EDT

 

facebook surveillance illustration

Reasonable suspicion is based on a circular logic – people can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists – that is ultimately backwards, and must be changed. Illustration: Joelle L / Flickr via Creative Commons Illustration: Joelle L / Flickr via Creative Commons

The US government’s web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be.

As we were reminded again just this week, you can be pulled into the National Security Agency’s database quietly and quickly, and the consequences can be long and enduring. Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information.

This kind of data sharing, however, isn’t limited to the latest from Edward Snowden’s NSA files. It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors.

The watchlist tracks “known” and “suspected” terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the US government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information – including a Facebook or Twitter post – to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.

Of the 680,000 individuals on that FBI master list, roughly 40% have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”, according to the Intercept. These individuals don’t even have a connection – as the government loosely defines it – to a designated terrorist group, but they are still branded as suspected terrorists.

The absurdities don’t end there. Take Dearborn, Michigan, a city with a population under 100,000 that is known for its large Arab American community – and has more watchlisted residents than any other city in America except New York.

These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard – so-called “reasonable suspicion” – in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.

Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard because it requires neither “concrete evidence” nor “irrefutable evidence”. Instead, an official is permitted to consider “reasonable inferences” and “to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience”.

Consider a real world context – actual criminal justice – where an officer needs reasonable suspicion to stop a person in the street and ask him or her a few questions. Courts have controversially held that avoiding eye contact with an officer, traveling alone, and traveling late at night, for example, all amount to reasonable suspicion.

This vague criteria is now being used to label innocent people as terrorism suspects.

Moreover, because the watchlist isn’t limited to known, actual terrorists, an official can watchlist a person if he has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person is a suspected terrorist. It’s a circular logic – individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists – that is ultimately backwards, and must be changed.

The government’s self-mandated surveillance guidance also includes loopholes that permit watchlisting without even showing reasonable suspicion. For example, non-citizens can be watchlisted for being associated with a watchlisted person – even if their relationship with that person is entirely innocuous. Another catch-all exception allows non-citizens to be watchlisted, so long as a source or tipster describes the person as an “extremist”, a “militant”, or in similar terms, and the “context suggests a nexus to terrorism”. The FBI’s definition of “nexus”, in turn, is far more nebulous than they’re letting on.

Because the watchlist designation process is secret, there’s no way of knowing just how many innocent people are added to the list due to these absurdities and loopholes. And yet, history shows that innocent people are inevitably added to the list and suffer life-altering consequences. Life on the master watchlist can trigger enhanced screening at borders and airports; being on the No Fly List, which is a subset of the larger terrorist watchlist, can prevent airline travel altogether. The watchlist can separate family members for months or years, isolate individuals from friends and associates, and ruin employment prospects.

Being branded a terrorism suspect also has far-reaching privacy implications. The watchlist is widely accessible, and government officials routinely collect the biometric data of watchlisted individuals, including their fingerprints and DNA strands. Law enforcement has likewise been directed to gather any and all available evidence when encountering watchlisted individuals, including receipts, business cards, health information and bank statements.

Watchlisting is an awesome power, and if used, must be exercised prudently and transparently.

The standards for inclusion should be appropriately narrow, the evidence relied upon credible and genuine, and the redress and review procedures consistent with basic constitutional requirements of fairness and due process. Instead, watchlisting is being used arbitrarily under a cloud of secrecy.

A watchlist saturated with innocent people diverts attention from real, genuine threats. A watchlist that disproportionately targets Arab and Muslim Americans or other minorities stigmatizes innocent people and alienates them from law enforcement. A watchlist based on poor standards and secret processes raises major constitutional concerns, including the right to travel freely and not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.

Indeed, you can’t help but wonder: are you already on the watchlist?

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