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Bill Bans NSA Eavesdropping 424

Posted by Zonk
from the stay-out-of-my-head dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The US house of representatives today passed a bill outlawing illegal domestic wiretapping by the government. Now government agencies are only allowed to access your private communications under terms of FISA. 'As the Senate Report noted, FISA "was designed . . . to curb the practice by which the Executive Branch may conduct warrantless electronic surveillance on its own unilateral determination that national security justifies it." The Bill ends plans by the Bush Administration that would give the NSA the freedom to pry into the lives of ordinary Americans. The ACLU noted that, despite many recent hearings about 'modernization' and 'technology neutrality,' the administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current FISA standards have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies, or proven unworkable for the agents tasked with following them.'"
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Bill Bans NSA Eavesdropping

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  • Only in a Government do you need to outlaw something that is already illegal.
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:14PM (#19089373) Journal
      It passed review by the Committee of Redundancy Committee, whereupon is was put to a vote before the House of Representatives. The passing vote means that it will now be put to a vote before the House of Representatives.
      • I smell... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by RingDev (879105)
        another veto... or is that a line signature?

        Either way, it's not going to have an effect on the current President.

        -Rick
        • Re:I smell... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:38PM (#19089745) Homepage Journal
          That's right. Bush will create a signing statement that basically says he's going to ignore the law. Or, he'll just veto it because he's got the world swinging from his nuts and he can if he wants to.
          • I sign that he's a nut. I don't really believe that he got balls 'til he proves it.
      • Mod Parent Redundant.
    • by jfengel (409917) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:17PM (#19089409) Homepage Journal
      This is really about the separation of powers. The President insists that since he has wartime authorization, he has pretty wide authority to break the law. That is, the law is written, and he doesn't have to follow it because another law trumps it. That's what you get when you have a big, complex legal code.

      This bill doesn't really change anything legally, but when it comes time for the third branch of government to have their say on the issue, Congress' intentions will be unambiguous: yes, they do mean that FISA is the ONLY way you can do domestic wiretapping.

      It would be nice if laws could be simple and unambiguous, like a well-written piece of software. Instead, laws are written over a long time by a lot of different people, just like real software. Software crashes; laws get inconsistencies. You can point it out for laughs but when it's your phone they're tapping, or your right to life/liberty/property sitting in the ambiguity, it's not so funny.
      • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:24PM (#19089535) Homepage Journal
        Oh, just admit it: the law is the OS of the land, and legislation is source code.
        Legislators and lawyers are the coders.
        And you thought <despised> had cruft/stability/performance issues...
        • by jfengel (409917) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:41PM (#19089799) Homepage Journal
          Very much so. And for the most part, you can at least imagine that [despised] was created by at most a few dozen people, over a few years, with more or less the same goal in mind.

          Legislation, on the other hand, is created by people who absolutely despise each other, over the course of centuries. Whenever the balance of power shifts, they add MORE source code to the mix, trying to counteract what the other guys added.

          And there's no debugger. The best you can hope for is to throw the legislation out there and hope that it has the effect you want.

          It would be nice to throw it out and start all over every so often, but it's impossible to know if the new bugs and switchover costs outweigh dealing with upgrading the existing hunk of crap.
          • Note the sage: (Score:3, Insightful)

            ...the husbandman...
            Every branch ... that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

            --
            The fundamental foolishness of government is that, short of bloody revolution, it lacks some aspects of a degenerative feedback loop to stabilize it.
            Separating the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the government is certainly a step in the right direction. Some might argue that the balance of federal, state, and local separati
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Legislators and lawyers are the coders.

          The problem is that not only are they the coders they are the CPUs too. So the law "runs" one way according to one lawyer and "runs" a different way according to a different lawyer.

          To stretch the analogy to the breaking point, it is as if each individual x86 CPU manufactured by Intel had a random distribution of computation errors such that 1+1 usually equaled something close 2, but occasionally you got one so far out of spec that it would compute 1+1 = i.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The President insists that since he has wartime authorization
        Is anyone ever going to question the perpetual state of war that we're being kept in? Or is it just too darn profitable for the investment brokers pulling the strings on the politicians?
      • by kst (168867) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:37PM (#19089723)
        This is really about the separation of powers. The President insists that since he has wartime authorization, he has pretty wide authority to break the law. That is, the law is written, and he doesn't have to follow it because another law trumps it.

        The problem with that reasoning is that there isn't another law that grants this authority to the President.

        This bill doesn't really change anything legally, but when it comes time for the third branch of government to have their say on the issue, Congress' intentions will be unambiguous: yes, they do mean that FISA is the ONLY way you can do domestic wiretapping.

        President Bush is quite fond of "signing statements". When President Carter signed FISA, he issued a signing statement saying that FISA is the only way you can do domestic wiretapping.

        It would be nice if laws could be simple and unambiguous, like a well-written piece of software. Instead, laws are written over a long time by a lot of different people, just like real software. Software crashes; laws get inconsistencies. You can point it out for laughs but when it's your phone they're tapping, or your right to life/liberty/property sitting in the ambiguity, it's not so funny.

        This particular law is already unambiguous, and the administration has been unambiguously violating it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dbIII (701233)

          The problem with that reasoning is that there isn't another law that grants this authority to the President.

          In the view of some opportunists there is - there's the one that grants divine right to rule as granted by God on coronation which is really what he wants and is getting due to no opposition that can stop him. The British threw that out with Magna Carta, but unfortunatly the shift back to monarchy by a branch of the Republicans no less has reintroduced that rule that trumps any "goddam peice of pape

      • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:44PM (#19089835) Homepage Journal
        This is really about the separation of powers.

        No. It is about a power that was never made available to the federal government in the first place. Warrantless wiretapping is unconstitutional, period. That includes FISA. FISA represents exactly the same kind of reasoning as the ridiculous topsy-turvey interpretation of the commerce clause. The premise is that wiretapping itself does no harm, completely ignoring the breach of your security. Here is the fourth amendment:

        The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

        You'll note the order there - it isn't an accident: first they get the warrant, then then they can search, seize and generally violate you security. This is the basis for telecommunications law that outlaws wiretapping in the first place.

        FISA is based upon the very peculiar notion that they can first tap, and then ask for a warrant, and if a warrant is not issued, then they just "forget" about the tap and - somehow - everything is just peachy. But clearly, it isn't. Your security and privacy was violated, without a warrant. This of course is entirely aside from the fact that FISA is a rubber-stamp organization; just look at the statistics for warrants granted as opposed to warrants refused. Consider further the fact that I am not allowed to put a tap on your phone line. For any reason. I'm not even allowed to listen to a cell phone conversation you broadcast on an analog mode cell connection or an RF-based portable home phone. This is because it is an invasion of your privacy; and because your security is threatened. It isn't because I didn't get a warrant (I can't, as I am a citizen, not a member of law enforcement) and it isn't because I could get a warrant later, if it seemed like I needed to - I still can't. No, it is simply because your security is guaranteed by the constitution, and it is very clear that such an action would be in violation. But this is exactly what the government does with FISA. They don't bother to get a warrant, they just listen whenever they decide they want to. Clearly, FISA is unconstitutional.

        Lastly, all arguments that the constitution is irrelevant here somehow because of "need" are false. If there is a real need, the constitution contains the tools required so that it may be modified such that those needs may be met. No, this is simply an end-run around the intent of the document without having to be inconvenienced by its restrictions. Remember, the constitution is the constituting authority for the federal (and state, with regard to amendments 1-10, as per the 14th) government, and any action that is forbidden on the one hand, or not an enumerated power in the case of the feds, is both unconstitutional and lacking any legitimate authority. Don't confuse power with authority.

        • by huckamania (533052) on Friday May 11, 2007 @05:22PM (#19090455) Journal
          Extending the 4th amendment to phone lines is a reach. Number one, phone lines are in the public domain. Same for cell phone transmissions. Unless phone lines and cell phone transmissions are somehow "in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" then I would say you are on shaky ground.

          Also, how exactly do you have a warrant "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized" when you're not searching a place and no persons or things are being seized. Unless telephone conversations have some sort of copyright protection and you consider making a copy as seizure, then again you are on shaky ground.

          I'm not saying there can't be laws with these protections, I'm just saying basing them on the 4th amendment seems like a stretch.

          It's actually illegal for the NSA or any government agency to tap any communication between US citizens whether inside our country or not. However, the idea of giving constitutional protections to everyone who makes it inside our borders, even those planning to do us harm, seems like a more serious threat than any amount of illegal wiretapping.
          • by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:16PM (#19093179) Journal

            Extending the 4th amendment to phone lines is a reach.

            I'm sorry, but you are mistaken. Not only that, but the case that extended the Fourth Amendment to prevent wiretapping phone lines without a warrant was a landmark ruling that shook constitutional law down to its roots. Here is Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). Since the case is not that long, I will quote it in nearly its entirety, only making minor adjustments. Read all of it, slowly and carefully. Then read it again.

            =====

            MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

            The petitioner (ed: Katz) was convicted in the District Court for the Southern District of California under an eight-count indictment charging him with transmitting wagering information by telephone from Los Angeles to Miami and Boston, in violation of a federal statute. At trial the Government was permitted, over the petitioner's objection, to introduce evidence of the petitioner's end of telephone conversations, overheard by FBI agents who had attached an electronic listening and recording device to the outside of the public telephone booth from which he had placed his calls. In affirming his conviction, the Court of Appeals rejected the contention that the recordings had been obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, because "[t]here was no physical entrance into the area occupied by [the petitioner]." We granted certiorari in order to consider the constitutional questions thus presented.

            The petitioner has phrased those questions as follows:

            "A. Whether a public telephone booth is a constitutionally protected area so that evidence obtained by attaching an electronic listening recording device to the top of such a booth is obtained in violation of the right to privacy of the user of the booth.

            "B. Whether physical penetration of a constitutionally protected area is necessary before a search and seizure can be said to be violative of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

            We decline to adopt this formulation of the issues. In the first place, the correct solution of Fourth Amendment problems is not necessarily promoted by incantation of the phrase "constitutionally protected area." Secondly, the Fourth Amendment cannot be translated into a general constitutional "right to privacy." That Amendment protects individual privacy against certain kinds of governmental intrusion, but its protections go further, and often have nothing to do with privacy at all. Other provisions of the Constitution protect personal privacy from other forms of governmental invasion. But the protection of a person's general right to privacy - his right to be let alone by other people - is, like the protection of his property and of his very life, left largely to the law of the individual States.

            Because of the misleading way the issues have been formulated, the parties have attached great significance to the characterization of the telephone booth from which the petitioner placed his calls. The petitioner has strenuously argued that the booth was a "constitutionally protected area." The Government has maintained with equal vigor that it was not. But this effort to decide whether or not a given "area," viewed in the abstract, is "constitutionally protected" deflects attention from the problem presented by this case. For the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.

            The Government stresses the fact that the telephone booth from which the petitioner made his calls was constructed partly of glass, so that he was as visible after he entered it as he would have been if he had remained outside. But what he sought to exclude when he entered the booth was not the intruding eye - it was the uninvited ear.

        • Says who? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by raehl (609729) <raehl311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday May 11, 2007 @05:54PM (#19090877) Homepage
          Warrantless wiretapping is unconstitutional, period.

          And where does the Constitution say that?

          It doesn't. Why doesn't it? Because in 1789, there was no such thing as electronic communication.

          In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that the protections of the fourth amendment applied to electronic searches as well as physical searches. But you must keep in mind than in 1967, electronic searches pretty much meant having people listen to other people's phone calls.

          It's now 2007. Electronic searches mean a lot more than just people listening to other people's phone calls. Whether a computer monitoring all phone calls constitutes an illegal search or not is not a given. It is not unreasonable that the courts could say that computerized monitoring of phone calls is not due the same 4th amendment protections as human monitoring. Or they could say that it is. But neither has happened yet.

          In the meantime, a law which says you can't use computer systems to monitor masses of phone calls isn't a bad thing - it makes it illegal now, definitively, without waiting for court interpretation of the scope of 1789's 4th amendment in 2007.
          • Re:Says who? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by fyngyrz (762201) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @06:50PM (#19091441) Homepage Journal

            And where does the Constitution say that?

            It doesn't

            Actually, you can read it as specifically saying that without stretching at all. It says, in part:

            The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects

            Papers were what they had to communicate with. Mail, diplomatic packets, notes, diaries, etc. Clearly, they were trying to safeguard communications, as well as a person's records, until or unless a warrant was issued for cause. When there is no cause, there will be no search of a person's communications. The mail isn't allowed to be interfered with either, again as a fourth amendment issue, because your papers, in transit, represent your communications and they are still protected. Your words in transit on a wire or a fiber are conceptually the same, and I mean really 1:1, exactly, precisely, 100% the same, as your letter to someone that is sitting in a postal collection box or a carrier's bag. When that letter is at your home it is protected, when it is in transit it is protected, and when it is delivered to the recipient it is protected. Your telephone communications clearly deserve the same protections, and given what the founders knew at the time, there is no question that this is what they were trying to accomplish.

            Whether a computer monitoring all phone calls constitutes an illegal search or not is not a given.

            Yes. It is. Because the result is the same as the human and machine (tape recorders, etc) acts forbidden in telecommunications law: Your privacy is sundered, your actions in speech that were purportedly private are not, you may very well be held accountable as a direct result of said computer monitoring, and information you did not expect to become public, or intend to become public, or want to become public, or formulate with the notion of public consumption... becomes public. How broadly varies from case to case, but regardless, your privacy is gone. Hyperbole can be interpreted as statements of intent, hypotheticals can become presumed reality, flights of fancy can be perverted into nefarious plans, statements of disgust with public figures can be taken as plots and subversion. It is critical that we know we are speaking for public (or law enforcement, even more so) consumption if that is in fact the case. There are immense consequences that arrive without justification or the knowledge of the persons communicating otherwise.

            Now, mind you, I am not saying that the courts - those same courts that think the enumerated and limited power to interfere with interstate commerce means they can interfere with intrastate commerce... those same courts that think the absolute prohibition against ex post facto laws means it is perfectly OK to make ex post facto laws... those same courts that think that the requirement they not infringe upon the right to bear arms means that they can outright forbid you to bear them and that's perfectly OK... those same courts that have trampled the first amendment to the point where people are arrested for "speaking against religion" - would not go right ahead and do this.

            However, to any clearheaded human being not a member of the sophist bunch coming out of law school, there is no question that regardless if it is a machine or a person that does the listening and the snitching and the character assassination, your privacy has been violated when said listening is done without the mechanism of a warrant as required by telecommunications law, which, as I mentioned earlier, is based on the fourth amendment and for perfectly obvious reasons. It is still unauthorized, still wrong, and still represents a use of power not enumerated on the one hand, and forbidden on the other.

            It is not unreasonable that the courts could say that computerized monitoring of phone calls is not due

      • by truthsearch (249536) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:45PM (#19089857) Homepage Journal
        The President insists that since he has wartime authorization...

        Except he doesn't. Congress hasn't declared war. By his logic every president in the last 30 years could spy on Americans without warrant because we're in a "war on drugs." We're not legally at war until declared by Congress. We're just technically at war, and reality has no bearing in the legal system.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Straif (172656)
          But every President, at least in the last 20, has used this same 'executive power' regardless of any state of war. And coincidentally enough Clinton did use it as part of the 'war on drugs' with actual physical searches and seizures not just for international phone calls.

          It only became an issue when an ideologically driven group of reporters chose to make a program the FISA court judges themselves have repeatedly said they have no jurisdiction over, an issue. No one was filing suit. No one was complainin
      • "It would be nice if laws could be simple and unambiguous, like a well-written piece of software."

        Which do you suppose we will see first?

        And would the expression "GO TO JAIL" be replaced by:

        IF {Guilty}
                WHILE (sentence)
                        jail
                ENDWHILE
        ELSE
        home

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Interfect (1089721)
      I stopped reading at "outlawing illegal". Maybe they should outlaw illegal filesharing next? Or illegal murder?
    • by Bogtha (906264) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:20PM (#19089455)

      Don't worry, Bush will be along shortly to double-un-re-de-ban it (no backsies!) any second now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Keyslapper (852034)
      Correction: Only in the US Government do you need to outlaw something that is already illegal.

      In the US, making something illegal is but the first step in outlawing that action or thing. The next step is to outlaw it, but even then, the thing has to be ostracized, vilified, hog tied, circumcised, deep fried, and then finally, it can be made to be a "bad thing", which is often punishable by a lot of hooting, halooing, and in more serious cases a downright hullabaloo; but only when it is made a "terrible t
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      See, as a Canadian, this is what seems strange to me about the American government: your constitution is supposed to be the highest law in the land, correct? And the only way to change the highest law is to basically have your Congress or States jump through all kinds of flaming hoops.

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but does not your Fourth Amendment rule out blanket wiretapping of your own citizens without a warrant? Making this wiretapping illegal?

      Perhaps I'm reading this too simplistically or something. Are
  • What a world... where you have to specifically outlaw the illegal behavior of the government.

  • by Stanistani (808333) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:07PM (#19089265) Homepage Journal
    This isn't fully baked yet. You need a Senate version, a conference, a final bill... wait for it... and a Presidential signature. Ooops.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by eln (21727)
      I predict, if this gets through the Senate, Bush will sign it along with a signing statement noting that he doesn't have to follow the law. That way he can continue violating the law without having to worry about bad press.
    • by Zephyros (966835)
      Or enough support to override the veto.
      • This bill passed with a vote of 225-197. If it's vetoed by the President and returned to Congress, they'll need a two-thirds majority to override the veto and make it law.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Signing it's not a problem, just add a signing statement that it doesn't apply to the NSA and everything is golden.
    • by lawpoop (604919)

      You need... a Presidential signature
      The congress can override a veto with a 2/3rds majority vote.

      It's up to us to put pressure on our representatives to do it. Don't give up and leave it in Bush's hands. The United States is a democracy of, by, and for the people. If Bush gets away with vetoing this, it will only be because we let him.
      • The United States is a democracy of, by, and for the people.

        From the outside, it looks more like a corporate state, run by various lobbyist groups and "advisors", with a fun show thrown every four years with spectator participation to keep the masses entertained.
    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:33PM (#19089661)

      This isn't fully baked yet. You need a Senate version, a conference, a final bill... wait for it... and a Presidential signature.


      Its the annual funding bill for the intelligence community. Presumably, the President would like to have some authority to spend funds for intelligence purposes.
      • by Lockejaw (955650)
        That hasn't stopped him from vetoing bills to fund the Iraq occupation. Remember, he's still not quite used to the idea that he doesn't own Congress anymore.
        • That hasn't stopped him from vetoing bills to fund the Iraq occupation.


          Well, a bill, though he is threatening another one that has passed the House but not yet the Senate.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by vjmurphy (190266) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:08PM (#19089279) Homepage
    "passed a bill outlawing illegal domestic wiretapping by the government"

    Good thing they outlawed illegal wiretapping, since outlawing legal wiretapping would have made it illegal, thus making the above sentence redundant. Wait. I think I hurt my brain.
  • What's that smell (Score:4, Insightful)

    by techpawn (969834) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:09PM (#19089293) Journal
    Oh.. another veto... just because a bill passes doesn't make it a law
    • I can't wait until the military funding dries up, and we can hang the commanders who send the soldiers afield without proper support.

      It's a pissing contest now, but it doesn't affect me since I don't fucking call anyone or even email anyone except for work. In-person communication FTW!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:09PM (#19089295)
    You know, in our constitution...

    "Amendment 4
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
    effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and
    no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
    affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
    persons or things to be seized."
  • Veto Coming? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stevedcc (1000313) *
    Think Bush will get that Veto out again? He really doesn't seem to like things that get in the way of his goals.
  • Unconstitutional (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kohath (38547) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:12PM (#19089335)
    FISA "was designed . . . to curb the practice by which the Executive Branch may conduct warrantless electronic surveillance on its own unilateral determination that national security justifies it."

    The Legislative branch doesn't have the authority to take Executive powers away whenever it wants to. The Executive branch either has a power under the Constitution or it doesn't. The Congress doesn't have the authority to take away Executive powers it didn't grant in the first place.
    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:19PM (#19089431) Homepage Journal
      Which, it would seem that the Executive branch doesn't have the power under the Constitution:

      Amendment IV
      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
      effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and
      no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
      affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
      persons or things to be seized


      • by Kohath (38547)
        That's an entirely different argument that's much more complicated. There's various case law. There has been no definitive court ruling specifically on this issue though -- unless I missed a recent one.

        The separation of powers argument is fairly clear, however.
        • That's an entirely different argument that's much more complicated.


          No, the two arguments are connected.

          There's various case law.


          Yes, and one factor that some of that case law points to in whether or not a search is "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment is whether or not it is consistent with, or in conflict with, statutory controls, the latter being a factor which weighs against reasonableness.

    • by Applekid (993327)
      "The Legislative branch doesn't have the authority to take Executive powers away whenever it wants to."

      Not by themselves, but certainly they can get the ball rolling by suggesting a Constitutional Amendment. See Article 5 [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Interfect (1089721)
      Bush doesn't have the authority to do what congress doesn't have the authority to prohibit him doing. If that makes sense. So it all works out.
    • Re:Unconstitutional (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:29PM (#19089619)
      The problem with this is that the Executive Branch does not have the power to begin with - its an assumed power under executive order.

      I just quickly read up on some of the powqers of the Executive Branch and its actually quite scary as to how many powers the President uses during his term in office that aren't actually codified in US law anywhere but seem to be used as wide ranging systems to get around law - executive orders and signing statements are the two most obvious ones, both used to circumvent laws meant to restrict certain acts and both are powers that are not granted by the Constitution nor current US law.

      You people really need to do something about that!
    • The Legislative branch doesn't have the authority to take Executive powers away whenever it wants to.

      The Legislative branch does have the authority to decide how to allocate funds and what purposes they may be used for, and this is the annual funding bill for the intelligence community. The Executive branch has no authority spending money to do anything not authorized by the legislation appropriating the money used.

      The Executive branch either has a power under the Constitution or it doesn't.

      That fails to ex

    • If Congress didn't grant the powers and the Executive still uses them, what does that constitute? Treason?
  • Why do we need this? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by psoriac (81188) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:17PM (#19089411)
    Can someone more legally/politically savvy than myself explain why we need laws/bills passed to prevent the breaking of existing laws/bills?
    • Simple... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:39PM (#19089753) Homepage
      The US government is "at war", so they have special dispensation to break laws whenever they think "national security" is as risk.

      The fact that the USA is always at war and that pretty much anything seems to count as "national security" means that on an average day they've already broken several laws before breakfast.

      This bill is Congress trying to put a stop to the farce. The only fly in the ointment is that no law is final until the president signs it, and he's the one abusing the law. Is he really going to sign away his own powers? Based on his track record ("Patriot act", etc.) I doubt it.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)
      Well, you see, Government has gotten so big and intrusive that they are having a hard time thinking of new ways to make something illegal. This is simiilar to all the remakes in movies these days. I expect to see this done a lot more in the government. Perhaps we should make a new law outlawing the illegal activity of murder and theft as well. You know, just to be sure.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:19PM (#19089437)
    It is called the "Constitution." Unfortunately the presidents of the last century and this century have treated the Constitution like a worthless piece of paper. They have performed wire-tapping or something similar. That is what people get when they ask for things they want that are unconstitutional.

    The only way to fix this is to vote straight Libertarian as the Republicrats or Democans are so adamant at keeping control rather than adhering to the Constitution.
    _________________________________________
    A vote against a Libertarian candidate is
    a vote to abolish the Constitution itself.
    Please visit the Pal-Item Forums at forums.pal-item.com [pal-item.com]
  • dumb (Score:2, Insightful)

    by guspasho (941623)
    Everyone else already pointed out why this is stupid: it's already illegal, and the President who has been breaking the law aready will have to sign it, and even if passed there is no indication this will carry any more force than FISA. It's a law just like FISA. If the President has been violating FISA openly why wouldn't he violate this law just as openly? Courts are only going to be moderately helpful. There's a large chance they will acquiesce to Bush's claims of national security - therefore any such
  • I'm just a bill.
    Yes, I'm only a bill.
    And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.
    Well, it's a long, long journey
    To the capital city.
    It's a long, long wait
    While I'm sitting in committee,
    But I know I'll be a law some day
    At least I hope and pray that I will
    But today I am still just a bill.

    Courtesy of http://www.jacksheldon.com/school.htm [jacksheldon.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      You forgot part:

      I'm just a bill
      Yes, I'm only a bill
      And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill
      Well, then I'm off to the White House
      Where I'll wait in a line
      With a lot of other bills
      For the president to sign
      And if he signs me, then I'll be a law.
      HOW I hope and pray that he will,
      But today I am still just a bill.

      Boy:

      You mean even if the whole Congress says you should be a law, the president can still say no?
      BILL:

      Yes, that's called a veto. If the president vetoes me, I have to go back to Congress and they vote on m
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:25PM (#19089553) Homepage
    "the administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current FISA standards have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies, or proven unworkable for the agents tasked with following them."

    They haven't provided it privately, either, and the reason is simple.

    The FISA court is well-known as being basically a warrent rubber-stamping court. Out of thousands of requests sent in the last few years, only a handfull have been rejected, and most of those were accepted with changes suggested by the court. Since the court will issues warrants post-facto, even temporal urgency isn't an obstacle to getting a FISA warrant. Basically in any situation where the request is properly made and has any merit whatsoever the FISA court grants the warrant, it can be done retroactively, and there's pretty much no reason to skip the process. So why would the administration bypass the court in order to conduct a search?

    Because the searches had so little merit that even FISA would not grant warrants.

    So no, Bush's administration is not going to give an example of a situation where FISA got in the way of conducting legitimate security operations because no such case exists, it could only give examples of illegitimate ones and it isn't going to do that either.

    This is a great start, though I hesitate to support the inherent thinking behind it -- which is, the President has the power to do whatever the fuck he wants until Congress specifically steps in and removes one of these infinitely many powers. But that's okay, we have to do something to at least make it explicit that when the President breaks the law, that means it was illegal, not that the Pres can put the pieces back together however he chooses. And I hope they continue to pass laws constraining government power, increasing oversight, and that they do this right up to the point where one of them gets in office and realizes they are subject to those same laws.
    • by AoT (107216) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:45PM (#19089855) Homepage Journal
      You know what worries me most about this, is that unless there is a direct confrontation between one of the other branches and the president before Bush leaves office then it leaves these questions unanswered. It scares me to think what an actually competent president would do with these powers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GreyWolf3000 (468618)
        There seem to be two main criticisms of Bush: that he is a total moron, and that he is guilty of successfully conspiring to turn the government into some sort of facism. These two are almost certainly mutually exclusive to me, and I tend to agree with the latter. I believe the reason he comes across as incompetent as he does is because that's how he courts the voters who actually vote for him.

        But he can't be a diabolical mastermind and an idiot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Coppit (2441)

      This is a great start, though I hesitate to support the inherent thinking behind it -- which is, the President has the power to do whatever the fuck he wants until Congress specifically steps in and removes one of these infinitely many powers.

      That's a very good point. For a while now my personal emails have had this sig:

      "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal."
      - Richard Nixon on domestic surveillance, 5/19/1977
      "Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolut

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:30PM (#19089631)

    The US house of representatives today passed a bill outlawing illegal domestic wiretapping by the government. Now government agencies are only allowed to access your private communications under terms of FISA.


    It's already criminal for government to access those outside of the provisions of FISA, that's, actually, the entire point of FISA. That it was already outlawed should be obvious from the fact that it is "illegal wiretapping". The description presented here and in TFA, if perhaps not the law itself, is clearly redundant.

    The link to the actual amendment in TFA seems to be broken, and while I can find references to the amendment (H.AMDT.182 to H.R.2082) I can't find the text of either the amendment or the amended bill (the amendment passed after the latest text I can find, the May 7 version of the bill.)

    So I'm not sure what this new bill does in this regard if anything, whether it is just a clarification, or whether it creates some new enforcement mechanism that provides a remedy when the executive isn't interested in prosecuting themselves for the crime of violating FISA.

  • Bush Will Ignore It (Score:5, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday May 11, 2007 @04:45PM (#19089859) Homepage Journal
    The FISA itself already makes NSA wiretapping illegal in ways Bush personally ordered for years, as he's admitted. Last year a federal judge found that the NSA had violated the law [cnn.com] (and the Constitution), and thereby that Bush had violated the law, in Bush's admitted offenses. The FISA makes it illegal for Bush to ignore the FISA court when wiretapping, and Bush has insisted he will continue to do just that.

    Although Bush did lie about stopping his crimes when this issue first blew up in the news, last week he said he'd continue [wired.com].

    FISA was created after Congress (and America) learned about some of the extent to which Nixon had abused his power to spy on Americans without cause or Constitutional process. It has been amended over a dozen times since, to keep pace with changing technology and suspects. But Bush will ignore it all, because he's used to the Republican Congress Nixon lacked to perpetuate his tyrannies.

    Bush is a committed criminal. Congress must impeach him immediately. While we still can.
  • Is it ? Is this something like this ? i mean, senate and congress turns democrat and this bill, contrary to what kind of bills have been passing since 2000, appears ?
  • by failure-man (870605) <failureman@gmail.CHICAGOcom minus city> on Friday May 11, 2007 @05:07PM (#19090183)
    This bill, even if it became law, is quite redundant. Using FISA is already the only legal way to do domestic eavesdropping. This bill is a statement. It essentially says "we, the congress really do mean for what you're doing to be illegal. No, we will not cover your ass by legalizing it, retroactively or otherwise."
  • by frank_adrian314159 (469671) on Friday May 11, 2007 @06:04PM (#19090965) Homepage
    What people who say that "This is redundant" are missing is that, for the past three or so years, when Bush has been asked about illegal activities, he states that the Iraq War Resolution gave him, in his role as "the commander guy", the power to undertake whatever means necessary to "defend the country". This law is making it explicitly clear that Congress no longer wants him to assume this particular power and, if the President tries to use this excuse again for this purpose, it is very likely that the Congress would have serious grounds for impeachment. This, of course, assumes that the bill becomes law, something that is very uncertain, given that Bush is likely to veto the legislation and that there are probably not Congressional votes to override his veto. On the other hand, it also lets the Democrats say that they are clearly not in favor of this activity and firmly ties the opposition to (implicit) support this action. All-in-all, it's a good thing, either way.
  • Wait, wait (Score:3, Informative)

    by syukton (256348) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:32PM (#19093267)
    So there's a bill to make illegal wiretaps ... illegal? Does anyone else see the problem here?
  • This is dangerous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MobyDisk (75490) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @09:45AM (#19095307) Homepage
    If the bill is vetoed, then can the president claim he really does have this power? What if the bill is repealed?

    Creating a bill like this implies that the current practices are legal, and that this law changes that. In the minds of the players, the law actually weakens exactly what they are trying to protect.

Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete successfully in business. Cheat. -- Ambrose Bierce

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