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Updates on the USA Freedom Act and other surveillance programs.



A few weeks ago we talked about how many key provisions from the Patriot Act had expired at the beginning of this month. Yes much like canceling your Netflix DVD subscription, the US government also “forgot” to do something about the Patriot Act provisions thanks to someone droning on in the background.


“Yeah I get it Rand, you like America! It’s been eight hours, give it a rest already!"

“Yeah I get it Rand, you like America! It’s been eight hours, give it a rest already!”


However Congress did eventually pass a piece of important legislation that does greatly affect the national security debate. The bill is called the USA Freedom Act. It’s a bill that while reigning in much of Section 215 from the Patriot Act, it also doesn’t eliminate completely the idea of government surveillance. Even though the bill did have enough support in both the House and Senate to pass, originally the bill was looked as divisive. Both sides had originally felt that the bill wasn’t going far enough; with surveillance hawks complaining that it didn’t give enough leeway to effectively protect national interests, while those concerned with bulk data collection feared agencies like the NSA were overstepping their bounds. Surveillance hawks eventually supported the USA Freedom Act after it became clear the Section 215 provisions of the Patriot Act weren’t going to be extended.


In other words, the USA Freedom Act is the White Castle of surveillance legislation. While you wouldn’t necessarily go to it if you had other choices, but if there’s absolutely nothing else you can turn to, then sure why not.


That last analogy was brought to you by White Castle.


“White Castle. When you don’t care where you go for lunch!”

“White Castle. When you don’t care where you go for lunch!”


So what’s in the USA Freedom Act then?


Well as we said, there is good news and bad news for both sides. Now I’m assuming you don’t want the NSA to look at those practice dick pics that you accidently sent to your parents that one time.


“Mom, those pictures weren’t meant for you, DON’T OPEN THAT EMAIL!!”

“Mom, those pictures weren’t meant for you, DON’T OPEN THAT EMAIL!!”


So in that case, the good news is that agencies like the NSA can no longer collect bulk information on customer data. While they can collect data on certain individuals of interest, there is at least more transparency and accountability in the process.


The bad news.


The NSA is still collecting data.


Like LOTS AND LOTS of data.




Section 215 and the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records was just a small part of the government’s much larger surveillance program.


Take PRISM for example. PRISM is clandestine surveillance program under the NSA that collects private Internet data from major online companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, ect. Think about that. All your data that you ever sent through your email account on Gmail or a private message you sent on Facebook or searches you searched on Google, the NSA has been collecting all that since 2007 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)!


So yes, your entire Google search quarries of “how big is a dragon’s penis?”, “who smelt it dealt it, true or false?”, and “big booty asian girls” [safe search off] are all documented on NSA computers.


“Oh the things they have on me…”

“Oh the things they have on me…”


Yet as intrusive as PRISM is, the most overreaching of the government surveillance programs has to be Executive Order 12333. It’s a Reagan-era directive that’s become the backbone for most of the NSA’s spying programs. Originally Executive Order 12333 was meant for agencies like the NSA to co-operate fully with the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) when it would request for information. In its original form, it was meant to create a bridge between agencies – like the NSA and CIA – to share information easier.


However over the years, Executive Order 12333 has changed significantly!


Since Executive Order 12333’s inception, the order has been amended numerous times by many presidents. In its current form it gives broad power to governmental agencies – like the NSA – to make programs like PRISM possible. Since EO 12333 was originally meant to collect data overseas, PRISM becomes a reality due to servers of many major Internet companies being overseas!


All of this can be disheartening, especially after the huge debate we just had on the Patriot Act extensions, but you never know. It just takes is a president to reverse an executive order, so it could happen?


Presidents Laughing


Or just be more mindful of your Google searches, I guess…?



(Photo Credits: Google Images, White Castle, Google, Reagan Presidential Library)


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