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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Congress unknowingly approved the mass collection of Americans' phone records

Excerpts from an article at Reason:

In *The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy*, Arthur Dent discovers that the plans for a highway project involving demolition of his house have been "on display" in the basement of a government building at "the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard.'" Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says the Obama administration has a similar idea of what adequate notice means in the context of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance activities. 

Legislators were informed of the opportunity to view the report via "Dear Colleague" notices, commonly ignored messages they have been conditioned to treat as spam.

In a speech at the Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia, last week, Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican who co-sponsored an amendment that would have put an end to the NSA's comprehensive collection of telephone metadata, described how such viewing opportunities work. On August 1 a member of Amash's staff happened to come across a notice from Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as she plumbed the depths of her boss's "Dear Colleague" folder. Rogers said "a classified letter from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence" would be available for viewing from 9 a.m. to noon the following day.

The viewing window coincided with a vote and occurred on the last day before a five-week summer recess. "The only people who showed up at that briefing were the people I talked to," Amash said. "Nobody else knew that that was going on." Furthermore, all of the legislators had to sign a nondisclosure agreement promising not to discuss the document with their colleagues.

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