State of play so far since our last episode. Putin bemoans now being stuck with an unwelcome Christmas present (Snowden). Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offer Snowden asylum but can’t get him there. The man of the hour meanwhile finally seeks asylum in Russia yet’s vague about ceasing public ‘anti-U.S. activities’, a pre-condition set by Putin.
Greenwald in turn threatens the U.S. with the worst disaster in history should anything ever happen to Snowden – while decrying that people pay too much attention to Snowden. And the U.S. hints about canceling a tete-a-tete with Putin after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.
So we ask you to join in our poll:
To date, voting is split between the media and U.S. government as winners. Did you weigh in yet? (Surprised no one wrote in China).
Some U.S. reform conversation manages to emerge, modestly, on narrow grounds. Comprehensive congressional reform of Community oversight isn’t on the table. At best, particular sections of PATRIOT Act are receiving initial and tangential scrutiny. We’re all in favor of rolling back PATRIOT Act wherever possible – we opposed it at the time and argued the case on the Hill. We firmly believe that L’Affaire Snowden, how it was handled and by whom, squandered the best chance in a generation to make more than cosmetic changes.
The House in particular shows tentative signs that some ranking members are reconsidering Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. That provision on its face blew the doors open on the old Section 501 of the FISA Act. Previously, the government could request business records of truck rental companies, hotels, etc. by applying to the FISC. The government had the burden of producing evidence to support its claim and the entire application would be reviewed by a judge.
Section 215 essentially erased any restrictions on obtaining business records. And it allows NSA and others to seek records without needing to provide any evidence to support their claims. A statement of a need is all that’s required. Judges have essentially no discretion and are a de facto rubber stamp. Unsurprisingly, the Community took that carte blanche and ran with it. What the Executive did then is simply claim entire databases are business records. Tardy congressional interest now in examining Section 215 authority is welcome. But claims of shock over what happened under Section 215 and other PATRIOT Act provisions are way too late and Casablanca-esque.
* Thanks to @Blckdgrd for catching typo re ‘Pyrrhic’. One of those words. Double checked it before posting and still blew it. The hazard of blogging sans caffeine.