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Senator Ron Wyden: White House considering scaling back data collection

One of the leading civil liberties supporters in the US Senate has said the Obama administration is considering scaling back its bulk collection of Americans' phone records.

Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Senate intelligence committee, told the New York Times that he believed the administration was increasingly concerned about the privacy implications raised by a surveillance effort it has performed for four and a half years, after National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed it to the Guardian.

"I have a feeling that the administration is getting concerned about the bulk phone records collection, and that they are thinking about whether to move administratively to stop it," Wyden told the Times.

This is interesting, but I think it is something to take with a grain of salt. Wyden and members of his staff made it clear that does not claim to have any inside knowledge of the White House plans. However, he is a senator in a position to have more knowledge about the goings on with NSA and FISA than most people.

It certainly seems plausible that Obama is feeling real political heat, both domestically and internationally, as a result of Snowden's revelations. The problem here is how would we be able to tell the difference between real reform and spin for public consumption. We don't have any comprehensive information about what is really going on. Therefore how could we actually tell if anything was changed?

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Comment Preferences

  •  I don't know about the heat thing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shopkeeper, Armando

    but I do wonder about the value of collecting metadata without  the content of the conversations (not that those should be collected either). I bet the NSA cannot produce any really hard info of the metadata being useful in preventing terrorism. Aren't there anonymous throw-away cell phones out there that  even the dumber terrorists probably use?  There has likely been too much passivity on the part of Barak Obama and his team in deferring to the demands of the intelligence establishment as to what kind of data is actually essential . .

    •  Phone metadata provides the pointers to the #'s (0+ / 0-)

      that you go get warrants and collect content on. Now that the "secret" is out, the value of the method is most certainly diminished.  Social network analysis is a very powerful tool, one of the sources of social network information has been (at least temporarily) rendered much less useful, so there's lot of regrouping going on.

      •  Explain how that works (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett

        Sounds like word salad to me.

        •  Alright I will try to give you an example of Meta (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Richard Lyon, KenBee

          On Monday the CEO of X corp calls his CFO, then he calls the COO of Corp Y, and hour later the COO of Corp Y calls the CFO and CEO of Corp Y, 15 minutes later he calls back the CEO from X, 10 minutes later CEO of Corp X uses his computer and places a call order on his stock, and a call order on Corp Y stock ...

          From this meta-data, though I don't know the content, I can see that MAYBE there is a hostile take-over in the works, and "possibly a case" for inside trading. This is a very simple example of how knowing the Meta-Data can lead you to know the content, without actually hearing the conversation.  This is just of th top of my head, if it does;t make sense I can make a more elaborate case.

          The point is WHO you rare CALLING and WHEN you are CALLing is as telling as WHAT you are saying.

          - Jeff US Army/Retired ... With a long enough lever one person can move the World! DoSomething-Anything.Info

          by l3m0n on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 06:46:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Spin, spin, spin (9+ / 0-)

    Enough with talk the talk, walk the walk.  It's what they do.  I mean this "Obama is thinking about scaling it back THEREFORE Progressive do not need to DO anything" has been used so many times on so many issues that I do not know how anyone can believe it anymore.  

    BREAKING NEWS  Progressives are thinking about reforming something, Get out of the WAY, here they come. CRICKETS.

    •  If it were coming from someone (6+ / 0-)

      other than Wyden, I wouldn't have bothered to post it. With him it seems like it deserves to at least be entered into the record.

      •  I know but that's how pathetic it's become (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Richard Lyon, accumbens, Aspe4

        Even the most supposedly progressive of them can't muster up more than tepid timidity.  And get on message Wyden, don't you know it's always "We're going to REFORM X".  Not to worry.  Send money.  

        And then...,.

        Four years later or whenever we find out the REFORM made whatever worse and then the response is Well, we TOLD YOU back then that we were going to REFORM X and you didn't get outraged and since you didn't get outraged and no progressive is ever outraged anymore then it doesn't count that our REFORM made things worse.

    •  Obama Excels at Empty Rhetoric (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      greenbell, PhilJD

      But the statement from Wyden is less than empty rhetoric because it doen't even quote someone in the Obama Admin.

      "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

      by Aspe4 on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 01:56:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yep, it's always about what is implied. (7+ / 0-)

      "Thinking about it" is one of the Obama sops to progressives.  Another favorite, although the actual language varies, is when Obama expresses a preference (e.g., "I would very much like to see ...")  Or when he's deeply troubled.

      With Obama you have to take what he says at exactly face value - nothing more or less - and while you will still be disappointed in the eventual outcome at least you won't have expected more.

      The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell

      by accumbens on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 02:02:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  considering thinking about possibly considering... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greenbell, Richard Lyon, Aspe4

    cutting back....a little, maybe.

    Dear NSA: I am only joking.

    by Shahryar on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 01:19:59 PM PDT

  •  As I've been noting it on a frequent basis... (5+ / 0-)

    ...within this community over the past few months, much of this funding will be (and already is being) shifted over to the FBI and local law enforcement. The NSA's own technology is, effectively, making a significant portion of their personnel costs unnecessary.

    That being said, it will, almost certainly, all be kabuki, once everything's said and done.

    A basic fact supporting this greater truth about kabuki may be found when one "looks" at the $1+ trillion our country spends on "defense" each year, which is "noted" as being roughly half that amount, at least as far as the line-item budgeting of those funds is concerned.

    "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

    by bobswern on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 01:23:27 PM PDT

  •  Privacy implications (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, PhilJD, CroneWit
    the administration was increasingly concerned about the privacy implications raised by a surveillance effort it has performed for four and a half years
    plus that the exceptional broad U.S.-person Verizon metadata order and the like is so bluntly and obviously illegal.

    Now that the illegality been exposed to the public, yeah, it's a good time to consider halting the program. "Privacy implications", call it.

    •  Bush's response to having (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Garrett

      his illegality revealed was to go to congress and change the law. I think that at the moment Obama is likely trying on different hats to see how well they might play.

      •  As they try on different hats, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CroneWit

        they are

        increasingly concerned
        pretty well panicked about the exposed illegality. There aren't anymore "change the laws" hats left.
        •  DiFi would be happy to change the law. n/t (0+ / 0-)
        •  I think 'cosmetic change to the law' will be (4+ / 0-)

          the outcome.  Here's how I think it will play out.  

          Beginning a few weeks ago --

          1. Obama on Charlie Rose says he wants to open up a discussion and mentions the 'Civil Liberties Board' that (although dormant) he will use to manage that discussion;

          2.  At Netroots Nation, the always-on-message Nancy Pelosi, in response to a question about Snowden/NSA, mentions that Obama has just talked to the 'Civil Liberties Board' and they will be leading the discussion on the FISA court

          3. This week, in sudden succession, we get a relative flood of new infomation about the FISA Court and its 'secret body of common law'.  This info comes to us through (1) the NYT, using unnamed and unauthorized 'former court officials', then (2) the WSJ, with more complete information.

          4. The 'Civil Liberties Board' (which has only recently been fully staffed, and which had 2 briefings by NSA staff followed by one meeting with Obama) holds its first meeting in which a former FISA judge expresses his concerns about the 'secret laws' and lack of oversight, and suggests that the 'Civil Liberties Board' might provide oversight.

          Some apologies and explanations of the above:  Sorry for no links; I have a big bundle of links/articles tossed in a virtual shoebox and have not had time to compile them.  So the best I can do right now for sources is to say the NYT article was by Lichtblau; the WSJ articles was analyzed by Marcy at emptywheel.net; and a Bloomberg article gives a good explanation of the 'Civil Liberties Board', revealing it as a toothless, useless body which has no power to act.  When I say 'recently', I mean no more than about five weeks (Charlie Rose & Netroots) and the last 7-10 days for articles.  I've used 'Civil Liberties Board' to name the purported oversight group (because it's got one of those cumbersome government names that I can't remember right now).  Much of this was documented here at dKos earlier this week in diaries about the NYT/WSJ articles.

          Okay, with the disclaimers out of the way, here's what I see.

          I was thrilled when the NYT story broke, but I couldn't get past the persistent question of 'how could NYT get anybody to speak about the secret court?'.  That question persisted after the WSJ article, and when I learned about the Board.  All this newly-freed information was exciting, and it gave me hope, made me believe that maybe this would be the beginning of a productive public dialogue that would restore our Fourth Amendment rights.

          Then I ran across the phrase that the goal was to have the Board 'structure the conversation'.  

          And I saw that all of this was stagecraft.  We were being managed.

          To what end?  I asked myself.

          The current structure of the FISA court and its laws were the 'fix' put in place after Bush's Warrentless Wiretapping brouhaha, which retroactively immunized the telecoms for wiretapping.

          Okay, so if that's how they play, how will that play out this time?

          I think it will play out this way:  Selective and controlled disclosures of the FISA Court's procedures and it body of secret law will continue, along with other suggestions like cutting back on phone harvesting.   Some funding might be moved and programs putitatively 'scaled down'.  The 'secret laws' -- at least some of them -- will be considered as useful precedents and codified into public law.

          I hope I'm wrong.  But at this point, I think it's all stagecraft that will end up fortifying the NSA surveillance state.

    •  Pres. Obama is squandering part of his presidency (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee

      defending continuation of the worst decisions of the Bush
      Administration.

      The President determined early in his presidency not to do the kind of 'take out the garbage' cleaning job on the government that the American people wanted and needed to excise the pathologies of the Bush era (both policies, practices and personnel) from the Homeland Security, DOJ, military, intelligence apparatus (including failure to enforce international agreements on human rights, war crimes, torture, etc. during his tenure because it would consume presidency from the very beginning.)

      It is kind of ironic to observe that all in hindsight.

      It looks to me like the only way he can deal with this is with some kind of Obama political jujitsu move, but the President seems to be fumbling on his public articulations of a defense of the NSA.   .....hard to know if inarticulation is intentional, by design or has a purpose.

  •  We don't have any comprehensive information about (4+ / 0-)

    what is really going on.
    That is the truest statement that I have seen on this site regarding Snowden and the materials that he has presented. There is endless speculation and hunches. But little info on what the NSA is actually doing. Good or bad.

  •  Cut back from what? does anyone really know what (4+ / 0-)

    the NSA budget is to start with.

    One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine and no change in our regulation of guns. --- John Oliver

    by voroki on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 01:36:45 PM PDT

  •  okay so let's just say (4+ / 0-)

    he does. (noting others above have already commented re cut back from what? we have no idea, etc). What's to stop the next administration from just ramping it right back up again? Not a damn thing. (and how would we know anyway...)
    This sounds like PR to me, plain and simple.

    If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution. ~ Emma Goldman

    by Lady Libertine on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 02:08:45 PM PDT

  •  "I have a feeling ..." (0+ / 0-)

    Reminds of the Baby Washington song, "I've Got a Feeling."  The first line is a propos:

                         I've got a feeling things ain't going right.
    To listen go here.

    The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell

    by accumbens on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 02:18:02 PM PDT

  •  Senator Wyden doesn't seem to make any (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greenbell

    effort to persuade his colleagues in Congress to modify the law that's in place.  He's a legislator, but doesn't seem to big on the job of legislating. :/

    Any administrative reforms could be undone by the next administration anyway.  I see people in this thread bashing the President for "empty rhetoric", when he's not the one that made this statement, progressive hero Wyden did, and he's grandstanding since he's not doing his own job as a legislator to do anything about it, knowing that his branch is the only branch that can ensure permanent reform.

  •  I'll believe it when it actually happens (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SouthernLiberalinMD

    and not before.

    We've had too many empty and hollow promises wrapped up in glowing rhetoric.

    Show, don't tell.

    If it's
    Not your body,
    Then it's
    Not your choice
    And it's
    None of your damn business!

    by TheOtherMaven on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 03:30:23 PM PDT

  •  I'm fond of Sen. Wyden, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon

    I think pigs will fly out of my ass before Obama "scales back" the NSA. Not even sure anymore what the balance of power is between the presidency and the alphabet soup agencies, but even if everything is constitutional and hunky-dory, Obama seems very fond of everything "security," and pretty much always has. His abortive attempt to close Guantanamo Bay is pretty much the only exception to a whole-hearted embarce of pretty much every expansion of executive power.

    I love Pink Floyd, don't you?

    Ou sont les neigedens d'antan?

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 03:50:20 PM PDT

  •  I think it is plausible (7+ / 0-)

    I think one of the unnoted reasons could be the programs really are not very effective.

  •  thanks for posting that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ukit

    Anything that Sen. Wyden and Udall have to say about this is something the the DK community should listen to....

    Also, Richard, thanks for being a "grown up" around here with the gravitas and reliability of your workproducts.

  •  Got my hands full of kids (0+ / 0-)

    Come back later.

    400ppm : what about my daughter's future?

    by koNko on Sat Jul 13, 2013 at 07:25:39 AM PDT

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