Tag: Lamar Smith

Your Congress, Your NSA Spying

The National Security Agency is collecting records of every domestic and cross-border Verizon phone call between now and July 19th. The secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over these records has been leaked to the Guardian.

You may find that outrageous. 1984 has arrived. Big Brother is watching you.

But the author of this story is not George Orwell. It’s Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, Senator Diane Feinstein of California, and you.

Here’s what I mean: In June of last year, Representative Smith (R) introduced H.R. 5949, the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012. Its purpose was to extend the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 for five years, continuing the government’s authority to collect data like this under secret court orders. The House Judiciary Committee reported the bill to the full House a few days later. The House Intelligence Committee, having joint jurisdiction over the bill, reported it at the beginning of August. And in mid-September, the House passed the bill by a vote of 301 to 118.

Sent to the Senate, the bill languished until very late in the year. But with the government’s secret wiretapping authority set to expire, the Senate took up the bill on December 27th. Whether by plan or coincidence, the Senate debated secret surveillance of Americans’ communications during the lazy, distracted period between Christmas and the new year.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) was the bill’s chief defender on the Senate floor. She parried arguments doggedly advanced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) that the surveillance law lacks sufficient oversight. My colleague Julian Sanchez showed ably at the time that modest amendments proposed by Wyden and others would improve oversight and in no way compromise security. But false urgency created by the Senate’s schedule won the day, and on December 28th of last year, the Senate passed the bill, sending it to the president, who signed it on December 30th.

The news that every Verizon call is going to the NSA not only vindicates Senator Wyden’s argument that oversight in this area is lacking. It reveals the upshot of that failed oversight: The secret FISA court has been issuing general warrants for communications surveillance.

That is contrary to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which requires warrants to issue “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” When a court requires “all call detail records” to be handed over “on an ongoing daily basis,” this is in no sense particular. Data about millions of our phone calls are now housed at the NSA. Data about calls you make and receive today will be housed at the NSA.

The reason given for secret mass surveillance of all our phone calls, according to an unofficial comment from the Obama administration, is that it is a “critical tool” against terrorism. These arguments should be put to public proof. For too long, government officials have waved off the rule of law and privacy using “terrorism” as their shibboleth. This time, show us exactly how gathering data about every domestic call on one of the largest telecommunications networks roots out the tiny number of stray-dog terrorists in the country. If the argument is based on data mining, it has a lot to overcome, including my 2008 paper with IBM data mining expert Jeff Jonas, “Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining.”

The ultimate author of the American surveillance state is you. If you’re like most Americans, you allowed yourself to remain mostly ignorant of the late-December debate over FISA reauthorization. You may not have finished digesting your Christmas ham until May, when it was revealed that IRS agents had targeted groups applying for tax exempt status for closer scrutiny based on their names or political themes.

The veneer of beneficent government is off. The National Security Agency is collecting records of your phone calls. The votes in Congress that allowed this to happen are linked above in this post. What are you going to do about it?

‘How an E-Verify Requirement Can Help’

I know little about a House Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow on E-Verify, but the title of it has a peculiar odor: “Document Fraud in Employment Authorization: How an E-Verify Requirement Can Help.”

You see, the immigration policies Congress has set are the source of the problem. Document fraud is made more likely by employment authorization requirements meant to enforce them, which are also—let’s remember—intrusive and costly business regulation.

In my Cato Policy Analysis “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration,” I wrote about restrictive immigration policies and the intrusive “internal enforcement” programs they have spawned. In a section titled “Counterattacks and Complications,” I examined how workers and employers will collude to avoid and frustrate worker verification. Mandatory E-Verify will increase identity and document fraud because it makes these frauds profitable. Trying to solve this problem, the government will naturally gravitate toward more powerful identity systems, including biometric identity cards and tracking.

Sure enough, House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith’s bill, the “Legal Workforce Act,” has a “pilot program” for a biometric national identity card.

When committing fraud is the pathway to productive employment, you know something is out of whack. Among the things out of whack are: too-restrictive immigration policy, internal enforcement, and E-Verify. This is supposed to be a free country where willingness and ability are the keys to employment.

Terror Arrest Does Not Justify REAL ID Revival

The zeitgeist on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. may be for limited, constitutional government, but that doesn’t mean that big-government conservatives aren’t going to use the reprieve voters gave Republicans in the fall to once again advance big-government goals. On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano encouraging her to fully implement our national ID law, the REAL ID Act of 2005.

The deadline for state implementation of the national ID law lapsed nearly three years ago. Half the states in the country have affirmatively barred themselves from implementing REAL ID or they have passed resolutions objecting to the national ID law. But the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly extended the deadline and reduced the compliance bar to suggest progress on the flagging national ID effort. With another faux implementation deadline looming in May, the DHS is almost certain to issue a blanket extension of the compliance deadline again soon.

Smith, King, and Sensenbrenner don’t want that to happen. They cite the arrest of Khalid Aldawsari in Texas as a reason for “immediate implementation of REAL ID.” 

According to the government’s affidavit, Aldawsari planned to acquire a false birth certificate and multiple false drivers licenses, assumedly to assist in his getaway after executing his formative bombing plans. But if you read the affidavit, you can see just how remote and speculative his use of any false identification is compared to the real acts that go into his plans. You can also see the web of identifiers that law enforcement use to effectively track and surveil their targets, including phone numbers, license plates, physical addresses, immigration records, email addresses, and Internet Protocol addresses. Aldawsari was nowhere near slipping through the net, and having a false driver’s license would have made no difference after a North Carolina chemical supply company reported to the FBI his suspicious attempt to purchase the chemical phenol. Nor would false identification have made a difference had he succeeded in an attack of any significance.

Having a national ID is the fantastical way of addressing the fantastical part of Aldawsari’s alleged plot. Thankfully, the real plot was disrupted using real law enforcement techniques, which include the reporting of suspicious behavior and narrowly targeted, lawful surveillance.

Who Reads the Readers?

This is a reminder, citizen: Only cranks worry about vastly increased governmental power to gather transactional data about Americans’ online behavior. Why, just last week, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) informed us that there has not been any “demonstrated or recent abuse” of such authority by means of National Security Letters, which permit the FBI to obtain many telecommunications records without court order. I mean, the last Inspector General report finding widespread and systemic abuse of those came out, like, over a year ago! And as defenders of expanded NSL powers often remind us, similar records can often be obtained by grand jury subpoena.

Subpoenas like, for instance, the one issued last year seeking the complete traffic logs of the left-wing site Indymedia for a particular day. According to tech journo Declan McCullah:

It instructed [System administrator Kristina] Clair to “include IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information,” including e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, and Indymedia readers’ Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and so on.

The sweeping request came with a gag order prohibiting Clair from talking about it. (As a constitutional matter, courts have found that recipients of such orders must at least be allowed to discuss them with attorneys in order to seek advise about their legality, but the subpoena contained no notice of that fact.) Justice Department officials tell McCullagh that the request was never reviewed directly by the Attorney General, as is normally required when information is sought from a press organization. Clair did tell attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and  when they wrote to U.S. Attorney Timothy Morrison questioning the propriety of the request, it was promptly withdrawn. EFF’s Kevin Bankston explains the legal problems with the subpoena at length.

Perhaps ironically, the targeting of Indymedia, which is about as far left as news sites get, may finally hep the populist right to the perils of the burgeoning surveillance state. It seems to have piqued Glenn Beck’s interest, and McCullagh went on Lou Dobbs’ show to talk about the story. Thus far, the approved conservative position appears to have been that Barack Obama is some kind of ruthless Stalinist with a secret plan to turn the United States into a massive gulag—but under no circumstances should there be any additional checks on his administration’s domestic spying powers.  This always struck me as both incoherent and a tragic waste of paranoia. Now that we’ve had a rather public reminder that such powers can be used to compile databases of people with politically unorthodox browsing habits, perhaps Beck—who seems to be something of an amateur historian—will take some time to delve into the story of COINTELPRO and other related projects our intelligence community busied itself with before we established an architecture of surveillance oversight in the late ’70s.

You know, the one we’ve spent the past eight years dismantling.

Lamar Smith vs. the WSJ

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote a plea for E-Verify, the federal worker background check system, in the Washington Times yesterday. He dedicates the first paragraphs to a broad analogy between immigrant workers and burglars, then says:

E-Verify is the federal government’s system that enables businesses to hire legal workers. It is a sure way to protect jobs for U.S. citizen and legal immigrant workers alike, and ensure their jobs aren’t stolen by illegal immigrants.

Time was when Republicans opposed regulation rather than extolling it.

Smith’s advocacy for increased regulation in the name of a closed society is handily eclipsed by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the topic this morning, reporting on the status of the effort to expand E-Verify through the economic stimulus legislation:

[W]e’re happy to report that negotiators so far have rejected a troublesome amendment that would require any business receiving stimulus funds to enroll in E-Verify, a government program for determining work eligibility. The last thing employers need now is more bureaucratic red tape.

And the Journal is talking about solutions:

Illegal immigration tends to flow and ebb based on the strength of the U.S. economy. Given the recession, it’s likely to decline in the short-run, and Congress might use the lull to enact some substantive policy reforms. Work-site enforcement should be part of a broader immigration debate, not something slipped into a stimulus bill to placate protectionists.

The winner, by a knockout: the Wall Street Journal.