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It's hitting the fan: Anger mounts over PRISM, NSA spying scandals

Microsoft, Google, and Facebook ask for more truth about FISA in their government transparency reports. Mozilla says Stop Watching Us. The ACLU files lawsuits. The EFF explains government spying word games.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill yesterday that would end the "secret law" that keeps government surveillance programs in the shadows. "This bill would require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, allowing Americans to know how broad of a legal authority the government is claiming to spy on Americans under the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."

Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray, agreeing with the bill to end the 'secret law,' then tweeted, "We'd like more NSL transparency."

You recall that the tech giants implicated in PRISM all initially denied that the NSA has direct access to user data. Those were "deniable denials," according to the EFF's Peter Eckersley. He deconstructed Microsoft's NSA spying denial to explain how all the companies had "trapdoors in their denials."

But then Google stepped up the plate first for its users over the NSA surveillance scandal. Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, asking for permission to prove the government doesn't have "unfettered access" to Google user data. Google is seeking permission "to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures-in terms of both the number we receive and their scope."

Microsoft emailed this statement to Reuters:

"Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues."

Moments after Microsoft's statement, Facebook General Counsel Ted Ullyot wrote, "In the past, we have questioned the value of releasing a transparency report that, because of exactly these types of government restrictions on disclosure, is necessarily incomplete and therefore potentially misleading to users." Facebook wants to show users a transparency report with a "complete picture of government requests," including "information about the size and scope of national security requests."

Being a Verizon cutomer, the ACLU filed a constitutional challenge to the NSA dragnet surveillance program in which the agency "vacuums up information about every phone call placed within, from, or to the United States. The lawsuit argues that the program violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and association as well as the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment." The ACLU said the program "exceeds the authority that Congress through the Patriot Act."

"This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens," said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. "It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation. The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy."

Also yesterday, in a meeting behind closed doors, Intelligence chiefs and FBI officials briefed the House of Representatives about the NSA mass-snatching U.S. phone records. It is sadly ironic that afterwards some members of Congress claimed to have "learned" new information, claimed outrage, or even bemoaned the facts that they did not repeal the Patriot Act, and also reauthorized the FISA Amendment Act (FAA) for another five years. Senator Mark Udall is sponsoring a petition asking Congress to revise the Patriot Act, yet it has a measly 1,528 signatures so far.

By placing a notice on its default browser search page, Mozilla is helping push awareness of the StopWatching.Us campaign. It demands that "Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA's spying programs."

On June 10, the ACLU filed a motion with the secret spy court that oversees government surveillance for national security cases, "requesting that it publish its opinions on the meaning, scope, and constitutionality of Section 215 of the Patriot Act." Jaffer said, "In a democracy, there should be no room for secret law. The public has a right to know what limits apply to the government's surveillance authority, and what safeguards are in place to protect individual privacy."

You hopefully recall when the NSA claimed that it was "not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority of the FAA." Furthermore, in reply to another request from Senators Wyden and Udall, the NSA Inspector General said we can't tell you because that would "violate the privacy of U.S. persons." A bit later, the government admitted to violating the Fourth Amendment at least once when it comes to warrantless wiretaps accomplished under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. You should be aware that Senator Ron Wyden gave Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a day's advance notice of wanting straight answers about the NSA collecting Americans' data. Even after a day to think about how to amend a previous untruthful answer, Clapper played word games.

So last but certainly not least, I'd like to direct your attention to an EFF post that explains the NSA's word games that deceive the public. Although the EFF has an entire section on the government's word games about domestic spying, and NSA spy chief Alexander was accused of playing word games at Def Con 20, the EFF does a great job explaining exactly how the NSA's word games deceived Congress.

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