If you happen to be a fan of Edward Snowden, yesterday was either a great day or a terrible day. A great day if you’re an American, a terrible day if you’re Russian.
Last night, the House Judiciary Committee passed the USA Freedom Act in a unanimous bipartisan committee vote. The bill, introduced by USA PATRIOT Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), is designed to end the National Security Agency’s metadata storage program, an unforeseen and, needless to say controversial offshoot of Section 215 of Sensenbrenner’s PATRIOT Act.
Instead of storing the metadata (phone numbers along with the date and time of the calls) in the secure NSA facility at Fort Meade, Maryland, the telecoms would continue as they always have to store the metadata privately and NSA would only be allowed to search the telecom databases for a particular phone number after acquiring an individual warrant from the FISA Court, which, by the way, is already required under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, at least when it comes to so-called U.S. Persons. The Freedom Act also limits the number of “hops” that can be queried to two instead of three. Both of these reforms were also proposed by President Obama earlier this year.
Well, I suppose this USA Freedom Act is good news — until perhaps a few years from now when Glenn Greenwald or similar goes off on a 4,000 word rant about how NSA has direct access the telecom metadata servers (with “individual warrants” buried in paragraph 32).
The question for which I can’t get an adequate answer is this: why does it matter where the metadata is stored? Whether it’s at Verizon or Fort Meade, it’s just sitting there on a fleet of hard disks. Isn’t it really about access to the data? It appears as if NSA will basically have the same access it had before, but from a different database. But fine. Congress is doing something about where metadata is kept, as if it matters.
The other bit of Snowden-related news comes to us from Russia where Vladimir Putin has authorized a new law mandating that all internet websites and bloggers register their sites with the government, while also forcing site owners to retain everything they publish for six months. So Putin is basically seizing control of Russian writers and bloggers.
Widely known as the “bloggers law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.
And who inspired Putin to plan for a law like this? Edward Snowden, evidently.
“You know that it all began initially, when the Internet first appeared, as a special C.I.A. project,” he said in remarks broadcast live nationally, before adding that “special services are still at the center of things.” He specifically thanked Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor granted asylum in Russia, for revealing to the world how efficient the N.S.A. was at collecting information.
Of course, this would absolutely prevent a Russian version of Snowden or Greenwald from ever existing there. Convenient. Combine that with another Russian law that went into effect in February, which allows the Russian government to shut down entire websites and we really have to wonder what the hell Snowden was talking about when, back in July, he said this:
“Yet even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression, countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.”
Every time something like “bloggers law” comes up, the whole Snowden/Greenwald narrative of a big, bad, oppressive U.S. surveillance state dies a little more. No, the United States isn’t perfect, nor are our leaders, but especially when compared with the nation that Snowden praised as “standing against human rights violations” we’re in pretty damn stellar shape — a status that I suppose is augmented by the fact that our government is relinquishing control over electronic surveillance while Russia is clamping down on it. No wonder Snowden and Greenwald never comment on the terrible things happening in Russia (or Brazil, for that matter) — it would chip away at their Evil America thesis. That and the fact that Greenwald and Snowden seem to ignore obvious violations based upon what’s in it for them personally.
Now where’s that debate about Russian surveillance Snowden promised nearly a month ago? You’d think the “bloggers law” would shake something loose. No?