Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Extenstion of Patriot Act defeated in the House, but wait ... .

NPR's "House GOP Leaders Blindsided By Patriot Act Defeat" has a fairly thorough account of yesterday's failure to pass an extension of the controversial Patriot Act, which was enacted in the wake of 9/11 and which broadened the government's surveillance powers. The Patriot Act has been described by Wikipedia:
... The Act dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; ...
The National Security Agency (NSA), according to Wikipedia, is authorised to "monitor, without search warrants, phone calls, e-mails, Internet activity, text messaging, and other communication involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication lies within the U.S." With this authority, the agency has carte blanche to intercept and record any communication entering or leaving the U.S. Given that authority, would anyone doubt that the agency would use it?

It may be reasonable to infer that all communications leaving and entering the country are intercepted and stored, even if the agency's only interest is, say, intelligence or terrorism. It may be necessary to intercept and store all communications, because it may be difficult to determine on-the-fly whether a particular communication is of interest, i.e., it may not be possible to decide whether a particular communication is of interest unless it can be associated with a communication made at another time, so the recording of all communications may be necessary if NSA is to perform its task effectively. The context, if any, of any particular communication may be necessary to determine whether that particular communication is of interest.

Closer to home, in the world of anti-palin blogs, the much touted "privacy" and "security" of overseas communication agents, such as the one operated by Patrick of Politicalgates, and formerly at Palingates, may well be nonexistent if a communication bound for the agent originates in this country, or a U.S. resident is the recipient of a communication originated by the agent. Now, whether the NSA or any other agency that it may collect data for considers rumors about Sarah Palin interesting is another matter. That such communications may not be private was made abundantly clear -- whether or not government intercepts/records them -- when the blogger himself published a communication made via the "private," "secure" agent.

A 2/3 vote was required to extend the Patriot Act on Tuesday, and NPR's article makes clear that the House's GOP leadership will try again to renew the Patriot Act with a procedure requiring only a simple majority vote.

Renewal of the Patriot Act is supported by President Obama.

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