PATRIOT Act expires -- now what?

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Well, it’s not like the NSA is going to stop spying on everyone. The President has their back (no matter who it is) and there’s nobody who can stop them, because there’s no will for it - certainly not the laughable oversight courts.

This is just a matter of whether there’s a legal loincloth over it.


So, I guess this is a legitimate question. I am not happy with stuff like this and have long been against the patriot act. To other readers at BoingBoing, what do you think the role of an espionage and intelligence agency should entail? What do you think are reasonable restrictions and responsibilities?

This isn’t a loaded question, by the way - I’m actually interested in all answers, because this is something I kind of struggle with personally. On one hand, I believe that an intelligence agency is probably useful to a major world power and certainly something that is normal among other countries - it’s been clear through the Snowden reveals that many other world powers exercise similar activities. But where’s the line we draw and what’s the rationale?

The President and courts are still only a vast minority of the US people. If they claim to represent the interests of US people and fail, we are still the majority and can force them. Most people I talk with seem to despair over this, hoping that they can rely on others to make it happen, and not need to organize and apply pressure as individuals.

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The so called ‘patriot act’ has expired and it should stay expired forever.

the problems related to surveillance began long ago and have become tradition within government enforcement programs. protecting certain groups can easily be criticized as elitist. justifying secrecy of information related to these groups is a web of human controversy. at this point in time the traditionally powerful will continue being protected. from my perspective the entire homeland security agency should be dissolved since it has only triplicated all existing programs.

Expired doesn’t mean “GONE FOREVER! NO TAKEBACKS!”

Congress can reinstate USA PATRIOT any time it wants to. And from when the press is saying about support within Congress, they will probably reinstate it immediately.

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Now Russ Feingold can say “Maybe next time y’all should listen to me?”


I was half-expecting Ron Paul to pack it up at the last minute and allow a vote, saying that he was just trying to make a point of some kind. I’ve come to expect crap like that from politicians. Paul has earned my respect on this issue, anyway.

USAPATRIOT is one of the most successful power grabs to date, but it was not the first attempt…

… and it won’t be the last.

If you are looking for a podcast, On The Media covered USAPATRIOT over the weekend:

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I dunno. Maybe I am just an optimist, but I would hope the average person working at the NSA would be like, “Well technically we can’t do that now. It isn’t legal.” and not be actively engaged on anything they aren’t allowed to do.

That can’t be said enough. It’s not like Obama, head of the “Most Transparent Administration EVER™” is sitting this one out. He’s actively supporting it with fearmongering and backing up all the lying shitweasels like Clapper.

And even if the authority for it expires, they’ve still only got a rubber-stamping FISA court hurdle to clear. Not very problematic.

And not like we can trust them to stop to begin with when they’ve lied about it every single step of the way.


I have a bridge to sell you…

More likely they’ll just carry on under the Freedom Act tomorrow. Even more likely, they just carried on as normal today.

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I’d type a response, but the world has ended and the terrorists have won.

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I believe they had more than enough power before 9/11 to adequately secure the United States, and as the “intelligence failures” around 9/11 pointed out to anyone who actually cared, the failure was not in intelligence gathering (which had all of the information necessary), it was in intelligence analysis, which neither the Patriot Act nor any other legislation after has really addressed. To be fair, creating the Department of Vaterland Sicherheit was supposed to create unifying framework for internal security services, but it was of course run by buffoons, creepy pedophilia obsessives and grifters, when all we needed was a slightly better culture of sharing between the CIA and the FBI (I suspect the former was generally reticent to share anything with the latter for fear that their frequently illegal behavior be exposed to an agency nearly as powerful as themselves).


This is simple. As tools of war (similar to any other soldier or war-machine, i.e. tanks/destroyers/atomic-bombs/etc), there needs to be specific care in how (and when) they are used. You point your tools of war at the enemy, and nothing else.

The rule of thumb is very similar to the trigger discipline everybody is hopefully taught regarding firearms: just like you don’t put your finger anywhere near the trigger of a gun until you actually intend to fire it, you don’t put your spies, tanks, and platoons of soldiers near any potential target until you actually intend to use them. If we aren’t actively defending ourselves, the troops (spies included) should be brought back home.

There are several reasons for this: first, it is bad foreign policy to look like a bully who is constantly hiding behind bodyguards. Just as important, though, is that we want those soldiers (and spies) back home where they can get back to their usual training. If we are constantly using our troops for offence, they might not be ready should we need them for defence.

Was the NSA defending places like github from China’s attack with their “Great Cannon”? No - as Dan Geer said, the current strategy has been 100% offence.

Even though I am usually a very outspoken critic of the intelligence community - the NSA has a lot to answer for, while some at the CIA needs to stand trial for torture and murder - I don’t have a problem with them going after the governments and military forces of anybody we are currently fighting in a shooting war. I even encourage them to see if it is possible to deescalate and prevent war with places like North Korea.

Going after civillians - foreign or domestic - is out of bounds. See Geneva Conventions. Now, some will say that accidents happen and they will always end up collecting some data from innocent civilians. Well, I can only suggst that they remember the story of the boy that cried wolf. The occasioanl mistake is forgivable. If they decide to make a habit of improper spying, nobody is going to believe them anymore.

As for restrictions: follow the damn law. All of it. The ends to not justify the means.

As for responsibilities, that is the easiest question of all: they simply need to follow their oath to defend the Constitution.


Gathering foreign intelligence is not something that’s only done during a shooting war. It needs to be happening all the time. Anything less constitutes willful blindness.

The scope of that intelligence gathering is certainly up for debate — is the information gleaned from Angela Merkel’s text messages worth the diplomatic blowback and embarrassment when it’s discovered? Probably not! But failing to maintain sources in Russia or China (or Iran or Israel or etc.) just because we’re not currently at war with them would be pretty stupid. And you’re drawing a very unclear distinction between foreign civilians and… what, military officers? Politicians? Scientists? Defense contractors? Kleptocrats? What exactly makes someone a privileged “civilian?”

So, there are two separate areas, of course.

One is domestic surveillance. In a democracy, there is no spy agency that spies on the country’s own citizens. It’s a police agency’s job to do the surveillance necessary to investigate and prevent crime; how much that should be, is up for debate. There is no room for secrecy though. By definition, a state with a secret organization spying on everyone is not a free country.

So, congratulations, America, on temporarily becoming a free country again - at least on paper.

The other area is foreign surveillance.

A spy agency of a non-rogue state should do the minimum amount of spying necessary to

  1. thwart foreign spy agencies
  2. know enough about developments in other nations to not be surprised when that other nation becomes an enemy
  3. help defend the country against actual enemies

… but …

  1. “Knowing enough about developments in other countries” doesn’t mean spying on their trade secrets or their secret negotiation positions in negotiations they are conducting with you in good faith.
  2. To “know enough”, all you need to do in most cases is to read newspapers in your target country.
  3. If you think you have enemies, first double-check whether they actually consider you an enemy, and then figure out why.
  4. Violating ordinary citizens’ rights in some other country that is not actually your enemy is evil.
  5. Collaborating with some other country’s own spy organisation to break the law in that other country and to violate the rights of the ordinary citizens in that country is evil.

I don’t FUCKING CARE. Grow a moral sense. If you evaluate your own actions only based on whether they are worth the embarrassment of being caught, than you are, quite simply, a bad person. And if a country does the same thing, it is a rogue state. The question should be, was it the right thing to do?

Or let’s try applying the golden rule. You know, do unto others, blah blah blah.
If catch someone gathering information about military officers, politicians, scientists, defense contractors and kleptocrats (yes, even that last group exists in America), he might not even be a spy, he might be an investigative journalist who is looking for signs of government wrongdoing. That is a vital task in a democracy.

Feel free to send as many investigative journalists into Austria as you want. And I’m sure you’ll be happy if others do the same to you, because we’re all on the same side here, because America is a democracy and its people don’t want it to be a rogue state, do they?
So if you catch those “spies”, you’d send them back home with your best wishes and an invitation to come back for a vacation in the US soon (and maybe give them a tour of whatever they were spying on first).

In other words, what would you be happy with foreign democratic and mostly-democratic countries doing to America just to make sure that America isn’t planning to invade them, assassinate their democratically-elected leaders or systematically undermine their privacy?

I would assume that from any competently-run and adequately-funded government, ally or otherwise. Intelligence services are the state’s sense organs. Bugging Merkel was wrong because it was stupid and hurt our relations, not because it was amoral. Holding yourself to rules that literally nobody else is playing by makes for a nice epitaph, but it’s an irresponsible way to run foreign policy.

I asked if you would be happy. If you’re happy, I assume that if you catch a spy, you’ll send them home with a friendly pat on the back, and tell them “come back soon”? Either those spies are good and innocent people who you’ll imprison, or they’re doing something wrong. Morals do come into play either way.

Oh, and by the standards of the worlds #1 economy, which also happens to have a ridiculously over-funded military and spy agency, there is no adequately-funded other government.
You’re the strongest bully in the school, and the teacher should take your word that everyone would hit everyone else if they could?

I assure you that Austria is utterly incapable of spying on the confidential communications of the governments of the US, China, or Russia; but we’d probably have good chances at spying against Slovenia, Switzerland or Slovakia. It would be considered a crime, though, so we don’t do it. The people of Austria wouldn’t stand for it, either. “Literally nobody else” is paranoid bullshit. My government does NOT systematically undermine American citizens’ communication security and privacy, so you don’t get to say “literally”.

I admit that Bugging Merkel wasn’t America’s greatest crime. Who do you think has Obama’s phone bugged?

But what about the other things:

  • Systematic economic espionage against supposed allies.
  • Spying on EU offices to learn their negotiating strategy, then using that against us in trade negotiations. These are negotiations where both sides basically sign away their democratic right to change certain laws and regulations, so you’re directly attacking my freedom by manipulating those negotiations. How is that not evil?
  • Behind-the-scenes pressure applied to get the German secret service BND to assist with spying on Austrian targets. This is, of course, an evil act against Austria, because we’re not among those “literally all countries” that are spying on America. Perhaps worse, it’s also an immoral act against Germany, because that spying is actually against the law and against the will of the people there. You’re conspiring with criminal elements in German government institutions to undermine German democracy and spy on Austria. That’s evil.

And what is it with Americans and that old-fashioned view of world politics as a great game? You keep playing a zero-sum game against democratic nations who don’t want a zero-sum game, and claim that everyone does it by pointing to a few other rogue states. Then you say that morality doesn’t count and start talking about “responsible foreign politics”.