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Two senators have introduced an amendment to the Patriot Act extension bill which would increase oversight:

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this week will seek to modify a House-Senate agreement that would extend three expiring Patriot Act surveillance authorities by including more government oversight of these authorities and sunsetting the use of national security letters (NSL) as a basis for justifying intelligence gathering.

Leahy and Paul on Monday announced their amendment to S. 1038, on which the Senate is expected to hold a cloture vote Monday evening. The bill reflects the House-Senate agreement to extend the three authorities until June 1, 2015, without any additional conditions placed on these techniques.

The amendment would rein in abuses by limiting domestic spying:

The bill extends the ability of U.S. intelligence authorities to conduct roving wiretaps, gain access to business records and survey "lone-wolf" operators, authorities that expire at the end of this week. The Leahy-Paul amendment would require inspector general audits of how these authorities are used, expand reporting requirements on their use and require more efforts by the government to justify their use.

The amendment also seeks to sunset the use of NSLs, which are a form of subpoena that the FBI can use without much in the way of judicial oversight. The amendment would discontinue their use at the end of 2013. Leahy and Paul argue that the Patriot Act expanded the use of NSLs, in part, by letting the FBI have access to information on people not subject to national security investigations.

Patterns of misconduct have included thousands of intelligence violations:

  • From 2001 to 2008, the FBI reported to the IOB approximately 800 violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations, although this number likely significantly under-represents the number of violations that actually occurred.
  • From 2001 to 2008, the FBI investigated, at minimum, 7000 potential violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.
  • Based on the proportion of violations reported to the IOB and the FBI’s own statements regarding the number of NSL violations that occurred, the actual number of violations that may have occurred from 2001 to 2008 could approach 40,000 possible violations of law, Executive Order, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.

Sen. Mark Udall has expressed agreement that reforms are needed:

If Congress passes a bill without debate this week to extend the PATRIOT Act until 2015, it would mean that for four more years, the federal government will continue to have almost unfettered right to issue "215 orders," which allow the government to demand "any tangible thing" during an investigation. Under this flawed provision the government can acquire credit reports, medical records, business records and even library records, without any connection to terrorism or suspicion of wrongdoing -- all outside the public eye.

Under another provision, the federal government will continue to have broad authority to place roving wiretaps on essentially any phone line, without specifying a single suspect or a particular communications device.

The final provision would reauthorize "lone wolf" authority, which allows the government to conduct wiretap surveillance on individuals even when that person has no connection to a government or terrorist organization. What is worse, Congress will not even be notified if such "lone wolf" authority is being used -- preventing critical oversight and protection of civil liberties.

An additional area of concern is the use of government contractors to carry out such murky activities as spying on social media.

The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.

As the HB Gary episode has revealed, private firms are using the cover of national security to actively harass citizens who oppose the corpora-fascist agenda.

When Aaron Barr was finalizing a recent computer security presentation for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, a colleague had a bit of good-natured advice for him: “Scare the shit out of them!”

In retrospect, this may not have been the advice Barr needed. As CEO of the government-focused infosec company HBGary Federal, Barr had to bring in big clients — and quickly — as the startup business hemorrhaged cash...

When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wanted to look into some of its opponents, Barr teamed with two other security companies and went nuts, proposing that the Chamber create an absurdly expensive “fusion cell” of the kind “developed and utilized by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)” — and costing $2 million a month. And if the fusion cell couldn’t turn up enough opposition research, the security firms would be happy to create honeypot websites to lure the Chamber’s union-loving opponents in order to grab more data from them.

The security companies even began grabbing tweets from liberal activists and mapping the connections between people using advanced link analysis software most often used by the intelligence community. (Some of the Chamber material was unearthed by ThinkProgress and other liberal bloggers, while The Tech Herald and first wrote about the proposed WikiLeaks attacks.)

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