Hold The Phone - Boycott AT&T, Verizon, Bell South

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Senate Judiciary Committee passes Specter/Cheney Spy Bill

I guess I spoke too soon in my last post, because now bill S.2453, the bill that would make Bush's warrantless wiretapping program legal,has been passed by the Judiciary Committee.

A bill radically redefining and expanding the government's ability to eavesdrop and search the houses of U.S. citizens without court approval passed a key Senate committee Wednesday, and may be voted on by the full Senate as early as next week.

By a 10-8 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB2453, the National Security Surveillance Act (.pdf), which was co-written by committee's chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) in concert with the White House.

The committee also passed two other surveillance measures, including one from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), one of the few senators to be briefed on the National Security Agency program. Feinstein's bill, which Specter co-sponsored before submitting another bill, rebuffs the administration's legal arguments and all but declares the warrantless wiretapping illegal.

In contrast, Specter's bill concedes the government's right to wiretap Americans without warrants, and allows the U.S. Attorney General to authorize, on his own, dragnet surveillance of Americans so long as the stated purpose of the surveillance is to monitor suspected terrorists or spies.

Some things that Specter said:

Specter, who called NSA's warrantless surveillance a "festering sore on our body politic," champions his bill, since it allows, but does nor require, the administration to submit the whole surveillance program to review by a secretive court. Specter says President Bush promised to submit the NSA program to the court, if the bill passes.

The bill also strikes from U.S. law a requirement that all surveillance of suspected spies and terrorists be done in accordance with FISA. But an aide for Specter disputes that this radically changes FISA or the balance of powers: Specter considers this to be an update to FISA that moves the law toward where technology is now, according to the aide, who spoke on background.

It scares me how naive this Arlen Specter character is.

It scares me that this bill actually made it this far.

But here's the real scary part. These are some tidbits about what the bill actually does:

  • Redefines surveillance so that only programs that catch the substance of a communication need oversight. Any government surveillance that captures, analyzes and stores patterns of communications such as phone records, or e-mail and website addresses, is no longer considered surveillance.
  • Expands the section of law that allows the attorney general to authorize spying on foreign embassies, so long as there's no "substantial likelihood" that an American's communication would be captured.
  • Repeals the provision of federal law that allows the government unfettered wiretapping and physical searches without warrants or notification for 15 days after a declaration of war. The lack of any congressional restraint on the president's wartime powers arguably puts the president at the height, rather than the ebb, of his powers in any time of war, even an undeclared one.
  • Repeals the provision of federal law that limits the government's wartime powers to conduct warrantless wiretapping and physical searches to a period of 15 days after a declaration of war.
  • Repeals the provision of federal law that puts a time limit on the government's wartime powers to conduct warrantless wiretapping and physical searches against Americans. Under current law, the president has that power for only 15 days following a declaration of war.
  • Allows the attorney general, or anyone he or she designates, to authorize widespread domestic spying, such as monitoring all instant-messaging systems in the country, so long as the government promises to delete anything not terrorism-related.
  • Moves all court challenges to the NSA surveillance program to a secretive court in Washington, D.C., comprised of judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Only government lawyers would be allowed in the courtroom.
    Allows the government to get warrants for surveillance programs as a whole, instead of having to describe to a judge the particular persons to be monitored and the methods to be used.

I would write more detailed comments about this, but I just wanted to share one thing with you guys:

I sent emails to my senators about this bill a month ago - if I remember correctly, I sent them through the ACLU. Anyway, I got a response a couple of days ago, and I thought I'd share it with you guys.

Here's the response:

Thank you . . .

. . for contacting me about the electronic surveillance of people in the United States by the National Security Agency (NSA). I share your serious concerns about this program.

In December, President Bush acknowledged that he had authorized the NSA to monitor communications, including phone calls and emails, involving American citizens living in the United States. These intercepts were conducted without a court-issued warrant or judicial oversight. The Administration has not disclosed how many Americans were targeted, but newspapers have reported numbers in the thousands.

It is critical that we relentlessly pursue terrorists that seek to do us harm. However, we must make sure that we do not undermine the very rights and way of life that we are seeking to protect. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act clearly states that the Administration must obtain a warrant before electronic surveillance is conducted on US citizens. The NSA program seems to directly violate this law.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon begin a bipartisan investigation of this matter. In addition, the NSA's Inspector General is investigating the legality of this program. Please be assured that I will support strong congressional oversight and closely monitor any new developments on this issue.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to do so again whenever I can be of assistance to you and your family.


Debbie Stabenow

United States Senator

So, as you can see, writing to my senators has gotten some results. Therefore, I encourage everybody out there reading this to get your congressperson's email address or regular address and write to them about the Specter/Cheney spy bill, immediately. It does work.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Specter/Cheney Spy Bill Stalls in Committee

Another quick post today, this time with more good news.

Bill S. 2453, the bill that Arlen Specter and Dick Cheney wrote that would've made Bush's spying program legal, just keeled over in committee yesterday evening, more or less.

WASHINGTON - President Bush's support proved insufficient to push a bill authorizing his warrantless wiretapping program through the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), the committee's chairman, said the bill stalled because of election-year obstructionism.

"We have seen the incipient stage of filibuster by amendment," the Pennsylvania Republican testily declared as he called off a vote to move his bill to the Senate floor. "Filibuster by speech, filibuster by amendment. Obstructionism."

Hopefully, it'll stay that way.

Here's what Russ Feingold had to say about it:

"The president has basically said: I'll agree to let a court decide if I'm breaking the law if you pass a law first that says I'm not breaking the law," Feingold said. "That won't help re-establish a healthy respect for separation of powers. It will only make matters worse."

And that's about it for today. I'll bring more updates as more news unfolds.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Lawyers Subpoena White House in Wiretap Case

You're not gonna believe this, dear readers.

The lawyers who are working in the lawsuits against AT&T, Verizon and the government are issuing subpoenas against the Bush administration.

Never thought it would happen? Neither did I. It's a sign that people are finally waking up about this, though.

The announcement is due to arrive at 4:30 PM, outside of Verizon headquarters in New York, RAW STORY has confirmed.

Mayer tells RAW STORY that the subpoenaes, directed to President George Bush, the Office of Legal Counsel, the Department of Justice, and the Chief Legal Counsel for Verizon, have already been sent, and should reach their targets tomorrow.

So obviously, there are more updates about this new development to come. Let's hope they're good ones.

And to finish this off...

Afran, a Green Party candidate for New Jersey Senate, told RAW STORY he expected the White House to again claim that the state secrets doctrine forbade it from answering the subpoena, but called the claim "absolute nonsense."

"That's an invitation for presidents to write their own rules and we've had judges multiple times say that state secrets is not a defense," he explained, adding, "We hope the White House will realize the need to cooperate."

This brings to mind an important question.

What would happen if the subpoenas are allowed to go through and the White House refuses to follow them anyway? If that happened, what recourse would we as the people have? Personally, I would guess that impeachment might be the only thing left that would work, but who would know even about that?

But we'll just have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Judge Rules Warrantless Wiretapping Program Unconstitutional

Break out the wine, ladies and gentlemen, because I have some wonderful news for you.

Judge Orders Halt to Warrantless Surveillance

DETROIT (Aug. 17) - A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

This is the point where we at Hold The Phone shall start playing the victory music.

"At its core, today's ruling addresses the abuse of presidential power and reaffirms the system of checks and balances that's necessary to our democracy," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told reporters after the ruling.

He called the opinion "another nail in the coffin in the Bush administration's legal strategy in the war on terror."

The NSA had no immediate comment on the ruling.

While siding with the ACLU on the wiretapping issue, Taylor dismissed a separate claim by the group over NSA data-mining of phone records. She said not enough had been publicly revealed about that program to support the claim and further litigation would jeopardize state secrets.

I guess that makes this a hollow victory, but one to be joyous for nonetheless.

We'll just have to wait and find out more about this. I'll update when I can.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New York Times Held Wiretapping Story Before 2004 Election

Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to give a lengthy entry, so here is a news article of interest.

It rather disturbs me.

Eavesdropping and the Election: An Answer on the Question of Timing

The article, written by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, has been honored with a Pulitzer and other journalistic prizes. But contradictory post-publication comments by Times editors and others about just how long the article was held have left me increasingly concerned about one key question: Did The Times mislead readers by stating that any delay in publication came after the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election?

In my January column, in which I refused to rely on anonymous sources, I noted that I was left “puzzled” by the election question. But I have now learned from Bill Keller, the executive editor, that The Times delayed publication of drafts of the eavesdropping article before the 2004 election. This revelation confirms what anonymous sources had told other publications such as The Los Angeles Times and The New York Observer in December.

This, of course, begs the question: why? Why did the New York Times hold the story like that? Why? What good would it have done them to do so?

I guess one could say that they didn't want to bring any bias into the election, but given how important it is to know about the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, that seems a bit... silly.

So I'll just wrap up my commentary on this article with this:

Given the importance of this otherwise outstanding article on warrantless eavesdropping — and now the confirmation of pre-election decisions to delay publication — The Times owes it to readers to set the official record straight.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bush's Part In All Of This

So, you may have noticed the "Impeach Bush" corner banner put up here.

Why did I put it up?

It's simple, really. When I remodeled the main Hold The Phone site, I had to look through all of the news articles I had all over again to update the information there. And when I did, facts about George W. Bush's involvment came up over and over again, and nagging questions grew in my head that just will not go away.

For example, you all probably know that President Bush was the one who secretly authorized the NSA to start the warrantless wiretapping program. He even OK'd the program over 30 times, and says that he will continue to do so.

It was also recently revealed that George W. Bush was the one that stopped the Department of Justice's investigation into the program, not the NSA.

And this made me wonder, why? Why does the President want this program so badly?

It couldn't be to find terrorists - For that end, the program wasn't working at all.

So what is the real reason?

You guys know that I want to keep this movement I've got going on here nonpartisan. I don't want to shut anybody out of it, liberal or conservative. So, please know that I'm not taking part in the Impeach Bush Coalition out of hatred or malice for the President, or anyone, really. It's just that from what I understand, there's more to the story here than what we currently know, and impeachment might be one of the few ways to find the truth and stop the program.

I don't have much choice, really.

Monday, August 07, 2006

NSA running out of electricity

Now, there are people out there who believe that all of the scandals and atrocities happening throughout the world are actually a sign of the End Times, and that the only way things will ever get better is if an outside force, like God, intervenes on our behalf.

According to the Baltimore Sun, it would appear that nature has stepped up to the plate.

NSA risking electrical overload

The demand for electricity to operate its expanding intelligence systems has left the high-tech eavesdropping agency on the verge of exceeding its power supply, the lifeblood of its sprawling 350-acre Fort Meade headquarters, according to current and former intelligence officials.

Agency officials anticipated the problem nearly a decade ago as they looked ahead at the technology needs of the agency, sources said, but it was never made a priority, and now the agency's ability to keep its operations going is threatened. The NSA is already unable to install some costly and sophisticated new equipment, including two new supercomputers, for fear of blowing out the electrical infrastructure, they said.

At minimum, the problem could produce disruptions leading to outages and power surges at the Fort Meade headquarters, hampering the work of intelligence analysts and damaging equipment, they said. At worst, it could force a virtual shutdown of the agency, paralyzing the intelligence operation, erasing crucial intelligence data and causing irreparable damage to computer systems -- all detrimental to the fight against terrorism.

Privacy: 1
Government corruption: 0

I hope that made your day. It certainly made mine.

(Also, I would like to apologize for not keeping up with this blog for the past couple of weeks -- real life caught up to me. To make up for it, I actually remodeled the whole Hold The Phone site and updated the information on it to reflect more current information, like the "Lawmakers Say NSA Database Incomplete" article. It was something I've been meaning to do for a while, actually. You can see it here, or click the banner on the menu to the right. I still have more updating to do there, but it's good enough for now.)