So this has been the big story everyone's talking about:


Privacy groups and some lawmakers are in an uproar after news reports this week that the U.S. National Security Agency is conducting broad surveillance of the nation’s residents.

British newspaper the Guardian reported Thursday that the NSA, with authorization from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, has been collecting the phone records of a large number of Verizon customers.

Later that day, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported that the NSA and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation also have access to servers at Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other major providers of Internet services, collecting audio, video, email and other content for surveillance. Some of the companies denied that the NSA and FBI have access to their servers.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA is also collecting customer records from AT&T, Sprint Nextel and credit-card companies.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence for President Barack Obama, defended the PRISM program targeting Internet communications. The Guardian and Post articles “contain numerous inaccuracies,” Clapper said in a statement.

The program is authorized by Congress and focuses on “the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States,” Clapper added. “It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.”

Information collected under the program is “among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats,” Clapper added. “The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.” - PC World, 6/7/13

Senator Al Franken (D. MN) had this to say about the NSA phone tracking:


“There’s a balance to strike between protecting Americans’ privacy and protecting our country’s national security. I don’t think we’ve struck that balance. I’m concerned about the lack of transparency of these programs. The American public can’t be kept in the dark about the basic architecture of the programs designed to protect them.

“We need to revisit how we address that balance. I agree with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that the relevant significant FISA Court opinions should be made public to the degree possible, consistent with protecting national security.” - Politicus USA, 6/6/13

Franken is echoing his fellow colleagues and critics of the NSA surveillance program:


-- Statement from Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology: "In the face of this avalanche of frightening revelations about the breadth of the NSA's surveillance programs, one thing is clear: It's time for a reckoning. The American people should not have to play guessing games about whether and how their own government is monitoring them. We need a sustained investigation into how far these programs reach into the private lives of American citizens."
WASHINGTON, DC- Nov 17: Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., questions Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, during the Senate Finance hearing on CMS efforts to carry out provisions under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), the health care overhaul. It was his first appearance at a congressional panel since President Obama appointed him during a congressional recess, circumventing a full-Senate confirmation vote. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly) (Newscom TagID: cqphotos040716.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]
-- Statement from Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, on the phone records collection: "I believe that when law-abiding Americans call their friends, who they call, when they call, and where they call from is private information. Collecting this data about every single phone call that every American makes every day would be a massive invasion of Americans' privacy."
-- Jeffrey Chester, a privacy advocate executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the "Obama-backed digital snooping plan makes a mockery" of the president's call for a privacy bill of rights for U.S. residents. "It appears neither citizens or U.S. companies have any concrete right to privacy in reality," he said in an email. "Ironically, what the administration is doing resembles the business models of the Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. They give lip service to consumer privacy, but in reality eavesdrop on nearly everything an individual does."
-- Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel for civil rights advocate the Constitution Project, via email: "The disclosure of this program illustrates dramatically that Congress should not have reauthorized the FISA Amendments Act this past December without incorporating any additional safeguards for Americans' civil liberties. It also demonstrates that the administration's interpretations of surveillance laws should not be kept secret -- a practice that prevents any public debate and meaningful oversight of the broad interpretations being applied to surveillance authorities."
-- Statement from Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, on the phone records collection: "I am deeply disturbed by reports that the FISA Court issued an extremely broad order requiring Verizon turn over to the National Security Agency on a daily basis the company's metadata on its customers' calls. Under this secret court order, millions of innocent Americans have been subject to government surveillance. The Fourth Amendment safeguards liberty by protecting against government abuse of power. Overzealous law enforcement, even when well-intended, carries grave risks to Americans' privacy and liberty." - PC Advisor, 6/7/13
Franken has also joined their call for action:


Franken, the chairman of the Senate’s Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee, said he’d learned about “programs like this one” through classified briefings before, but he still had questions about the National Security Agency’s practice of requesting records from cellular companies like Verizon.

“We have to see what safeguards there are and how this program is structured, and how this data is used and whether it’s stored, for example,” he said.

On Thursday, the UK’s Guardian reported on a secret April court order requiring Verizon to turn over the “metadata” associated with its users’ cell phone calls: where the user was, who they were talking to, how long the conversation lasted, etc.

Franken was on the way to an intelligence briefing on Thursday afternoon. He said the matter “may very well be” a future topic for his privacy subcommittee to consider.
“I want to learn a lot more about it,” he said. “I’d like the administration to be as transparent as absolutely possible.” - Minn Post, 6/6/13

Some of Franken's colleagues in the Senate have been trying to prevent this sort of scenario from happening:


AURORA,CO--OCTOBER 17TH 2009--Congressman, Mark Udall, during the 9News/Denver Post Health Care Forum,
Carrie Johnson of NPR obtained a 2011 letter from the Department of Justice to Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, explaining how it collects information using the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215. It said, in part:

Against this backdrop, we do not believe the Executive Branch is operating pursuant to “secret law” or “secret opinions of the Department of Justice.” Rather, the Intelligence Community is conducting court-authorized intelligence activities pursuant to a public statute, with the knowledge and oversight of Congress and the Intelligence Committees of both Houses. There is also extensive oversight by the Executive Branch, including the Department of Justice and relevant agency General Counsels and Inspectors General, as well as annual and semi-annual reports to Congress as required by law.

During his March testimony before the Senate Intelligence Community, DNI James Clapper responded “No” to Senator Wyden’s question regarding the NSA’s data collection efforts on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Carlos Munoz reminds us of this exchange at The Hill, while Jonathan Weisman refers to last December’s largely uncontroversial re-up of the FISA Amendments, save for Senator Ron Wyden’s impassioned remarks on the floor. - Lawfare, 6/7/13

Franken's actually had a good track record in the Senate on cracking down on phone tracking:


Euclid, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up that tracks consumer shopping habits in stores via their WiFi enabled smart phones has run smack dab into the ongoing privacy debate in Washington about whether consumers should have to opt-out of being tracked or whether companies should ask permission first.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), one of the leading privacy hawks in Congress, is a big proponent of the philosophy that consumers should be asked if they want to be tracked before companies track them without their knowledge.

In a letter to Euclid CEO Will Smith, Franken pressed the company to obtain permission
from consumers before tracking them in stores, "especially in the offline world where they are less likely to expect it," Franken wrote Wednesday. "Recent news reports suggest that Euclid's technology has tracked 50 million unique smart phones or other WiFi enabled devices.... I find this troubling." - AdWeek, 3/13/13

Here's a little background on Euclid:


Euclid doesn’t disclose who their clients are online (although they claim “Top 100 retailers in numerous categories, including specialty apparel, department stores, auto parts and home improvement” as clients), and the only notice consumers get is a vague sign hidden somewhere in the physical store, meaning consumer data is collected largely without their knowledge or consent. And while the MAC data is relatively anonymous, it’s also a unique ID — and the only way to opt out is giving Euclid your MAC address, thus identifying yourself.

Euclid raised $17 million in venture funds earlier this year and have information on over 50 million mobile devices right now. Considering that there are 114 million people in the U.S. using smart phones, that’s a pretty large segment of the consumer audience — large enough to garner interest from at least one senator: In a statement yesterday, Franken expressed concerned about the privacy implications of the system:

“It’s one thing to track someone’s shopping habits through a loyalty card or credit card purchase; folks understand that their information may be collected. It’s another thing entirely to track consumers’ movements without their permission as they shop, especially when someone doesn’t buy anything or even enter a store. People have a fundamental right to privacy, and I think neglecting to ask consumers for their permission to track them violates that right.” - Think Progress, 3/15/13

Franken's even introduced legislation known as the the Location Privacy Protection Act to protect consumers from phone tracking:


Franken wants to legislate to make location data collection opt-in only. He recently pulled up retail analytics firm Euclid for the opt-out nature of its system.

Euclid works with clothing stores, quick-service restaurants, shopping malls and department stores to measure shopper activity in-store, either by tracking the wi-fi signals given off by mobile phones or by using specially-fitted sensors. It recently landed $17m in financing.

The firm’s privacy policy explains that it “collects only basic device information that is broadcast by wi-fi enabled phones. This does not include any sensitive data such as who you are, whom you call, or the websites you visit”.

But in a letter sent to Euclid on 13 March, Franken said: “It’s one thing to track someone’s shopping habits through a loyalty card or credit card purchase; folks understand that their information may be collected. It’s another thing entirely to track consumers’ movements without their permission as they shop, especially when someone doesn’t buy anything or even enter a store. People have a fundamental right to privacy, and I think neglecting to ask consumers for their permission to track them violates that right.” - Research, 4/4/13

And legislation that makes cell phone transferring easier:
The bi-partisan backed bill would let you keep your phone when you switch providers. Franken says it's a common sense solution, giving people their freedom of choice back.

Currently you can "not" take your phone and switch to another provider at a cheaper price.

Franken says, "It's the way it's been since we had cellphones and smart phones. It's just that the Library of Congress changed it and Congress can change it back and we're going to do it."

So what's the penalty for breaking the law? Senator Franken says it could put you behind bars for up to five years. The bill is set to be vote on in the upcoming weeks. - WDAY News 6, 3/13/13

The NSA story breaking will give Franken a great opportunity to make his privacy legislation key issues for the Senate to take up, hopefully.  President Obama has defended the NSA program but the pressure from lawmakers and the media exposure might be causing him to seriously address this issue:
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the sequester after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington March 1, 2013. Obama pressed the U.S. Congress on Friday to avoid a government shutdown when federal spending authority runs out on March 27, saying it is the
President Barack Obama declared Friday that America is "going to have to make some choices" balancing privacy and security, launching a vigorous defense of formerly secret programs that sweep up an estimated 3 billion phone calls a day and amass Internet data from U.S. providers in an attempt to thwart terror attacks.

He warned that it will be harder to detect threats against the U.S. now that the two top-secret tools to target terrorists have been so thoroughly publicized.

At turns defensive and defiant, Obama stood by the spy programs revealed this week.
The National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans each day, creating a database through which it can learn whether terror suspects have been in contact with people in the U.S. It also was disclosed this week that the NSA has been gathering all Internet usage - audio, video, photographs, emails and searches - from nine major U.S. Internet providers, including Microsoft and Google, in hopes of detecting suspicious behavior that begins overseas.

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls," Obama assured the nation after two days of reports that many found unsettling. What the government is doing, he said, is digesting phone numbers and the durations of calls, seeking links that might "identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism." If there's a hit, he said, "if the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they've got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation."

While Obama said the aim of the programs is to make America safe, he offered no specifics about how the surveillance programs have done this. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., on Thursday said the phone records sweeps had thwarted a domestic terror attack, but he also didn't offer specifics.

Obama asserted his administration had tightened the phone records collection program since it started in the George W. Bush administration and is auditing the programs to ensure that measures to protect Americans' privacy are heeded - part of what he called efforts to resist a mindset of "you know, 'Trust me, we're doing the right thing. We know who the bad guys are.'" But again, he provided no details on how the program was tightened or what the audit is looking at.

The furor this week has divided Congress, and led civil liberties advocates and some constitutional scholars to accuse Obama of crossing a line in the name of rooting out terror threats.

Obama, himself a constitutional lawyer, strove to calm Americans' fears - but also remind them that Congress and the courts had signed off on the surveillance.

"I think the American people understand that there are some trade-offs involved," Obama said when questioned by reporters at a health care event in San Jose, Calif.
"It's important to recognize that you can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," he said. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society. And what I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity."
Obama said U.S. intelligence officials are looking at phone numbers and lengths of calls - not at people's names - and not listening in. - Associated Press, 6/7/13

If you would like to get more information about Senator Franken's legislation, please check out his website:


Or you can contact his office for more information:

(202) 224-5641

And if you would like to donate to Al's re-election campaign, you can do so here:


Originally posted to pdc on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 07:08 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

Your Email has been sent.