NSA may not stop data collection even if Congress makes it illegal

congress story

The USA Freedom Act aims to curb mass data collection by US intelligence agencies. However, even if the act is passed into law, because of the wording of the bill, it has been pointed out that it may not be effective enough to do so. In other words, NSA and co may have a loophole… even before the law becomes an actual law.

“If the USA Freedom Act becomes law, it’s going to depend on how the court interprets any number of the provisions that are in it,” James Cole said. Cole is the Deputy Attorney General and spoke out about these fears at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which took place on Wednesday.

“Right now the interpretation of the word ‘relevant’ is a broad interpretation,” Cole also said at the hearing. “Adding ‘pertinent to a foreign agent’ or ‘somebody in contact with a foreign agent’ could be another way of talking about relevance as it is right now. We’d have to see how broadly the court interprets that or how narrowly.”

The current NSA Director Keith Alexander still believes that the program should not be shut down. “There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots,” he said, and thinks that it is still a good way to keep an eye on terrorist threats. Luckily, or unluckily depending on which side of the fence you sit on, he is supposed to be leaving in the next couple of months.

I suppose it wouldn’t be politics if it didn’t have loopholes.

[via arstechnica, The Hill, USA Freedom Act, image via Jeffrey's flickr]

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8 comments

  1. Mike S.

    [@Seamus McSeamus] Interesting–and so, placate people and leave it to the courts, when the lawsuits get filed, to do the clean-up work. If that indeed is the case, seems like legislative copping-out . . . .

    While I’m sure, as at any business or with people generally, that there are abuses at the NSA, it also seems to me that the NSA, with greatly talented people, simply is trying to do what it has been tasked to do, avidly, Now, maybe Congress didn’t see all the consequences. And so, as is happening now and should and must happen, corrective action and fine-tuning is needed.

    Let’s keep in mind and giving some benefit, that the NSA and laws are there to protect us from unfortunate actions by others. I really don’t think that the NSA is interested in my Amazon.com buying habits. But privacy interests are indeed implicated and balance must be achieved, as well as fairness to our friends and others whether inside the U.S. or out.

  2. Seamus McSeamus

    [@Ashraf] I agree with you in general terms, but in this specific case I am in favor of a law worded in such a way that it leaves nothing in question about what it prohibits.

    I agree totally with you about governmental abuse of power. That is why a well defined law is needed in this case, because clearly the NSA is abusing its power. That seems to be the general trend of government in the US since 9-11, however.

  3. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    [@etim] Sounds like etim has something to hide :-P

    [@Seamus McSeamus] Well that is a clash of two ideologies. One says specific rules are better for governance while the other says more broad, “principle-based” that leaves room for interpretation. I don’t think the issue is which method is better for governing — because both have their ups and downs — but rather the issue is the willingness of governments around the world to abuse their own system. And trust me when I say this, abuse is possible in both worlds.

  4. Seamus McSeamus

    [@Ashraf] Which simply illustrates how ineffective and bungling our lawmakers really are, IMO. Most of these people are lawyers, and they certainly have access to lawyers, so it should be possible for them to write laws that say what they want them to say, with no wiggle room. You don’t want the NSA spying on Americans? Write and pass a law that says that, no ifs, ands or buts.

  5. etim

    It’s bad enough that the NSA, etc does what they damn well please re: spying–they always have and always will, no matter what laws are passed.

    What bothers me is who has access to the info.
    As it is now, any entity, federal or local, public or private, can get total access to your personal secrets.

  6. Seamus McSeamus

    [@Mike S.] I think that’s just it, though. The whole exercise is meant to placate those pesky privacy advocates, while leaving the language of the law vague enough that it still allows the NSA to conduct business as usual.