Obama Swings into Action with Sounds Bites Over VA Outrage, Democrats Join Benghazi Panel, Boko Haram Attacks Escalate: P.M. Links

  • The whole "I got this" Obama meme seems to have died off, hasn't it?President Barack Obama said
    today he won’t “tolerate” the cover-up of long wait times and
    extreme problems with health treatment of
    veterans through the Veterans Affairs office
    . He said there
    will be investigations and people held “accountable” and continued
    to act as though this were a new development and not a problem that
    had been known for years. He is not firing VA Secretary Eric
    Shineski as yet.
  • Democrats will be participating in the
    special Republican-led House panel
    investigating the
    circumstances surrounding the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate
    in Benghazi, Libya.

  • Online room rental service Airbnb
    has agreed to provide user
    data to New York City’s attorney general in his pursuit of people
    running illegal hotels, but names will be kept confidential unless
    the city identifies particular users they believe are breaking the
    law.
  • Police investigating NFL football player Aaron Hernandez for
    murder are looking for evidence from the
    people who tattooed him
    .
  • Boko
    Haram attacks escalate
    in Nigeria, and the country is asking
    the United Nations to classify the group as a terrorist
    organization. No word as to whether their efforts include a hashtag
    campaign.
  • Dozens of people from all walks of life were arrested in the
    New York City area for
    possession of child pornography
    .

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The Answer to Detroit’s Problems: Rich Guys Calling Each Other to Discuss Their ‘Neat’ Ideas

“When the head of the world’s largest bank called the local
billionaire bent on Detroit’s revival, good things happened,” reads
the lede to a
story
in the Detroit Free Press by Business Writer
John Gallagher. The “billionaire bent on Detroit’s revival” is Dan
Gilbert, the co-founder of Quicken Loans, and the “head of the
world’s largest bank” is Jamie Dimon, the CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase,
who just announced that his bank is making a $100 million
“investment” in the Motor City.Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase. |||

“Obviously, Detroit was having issues,” Dimon told Gallagher in
an “exclusive” interview. “I got together some of our senior people
and said, ‘What can we do that’s really neat, that could be really
creative?'”

If only super rich guys would pick up the damn phone more often
to talk about their neat ideas, maybe Detroit wouldn’t be an urban
disaster area currently embroiled in the largest municipal
bankruptcy in American history.

Gallagher explains to his readers that J.P. Morgan decided to
spend $100 million in Detroit as a public relations move and to
“revitalize one of its major markets.” He doesn’t mention that in
forking over all that money the bank is actually fulfilling its
obligations under its $13
billion settlement
with the U.S. Department of Justice related
to its role in securitizing toxic mortgages. As part of the deal,
some of the money goes towards combating urban blight, and other
distressed cities have also been
vying for a piece
.

A typical scene in Detroit. |||With the announcement of its gift, the bank
released a
pamphlet
touting its “commitment” to the area that’s filled
with some of the worst clichés of urban redevelopment. J.P. Morgan
will be “strengthening workforce readiness,” “tackling blight,” and
“rolling up [its] sleeves.” What could go wrong?

The J.P. Morgan money will undoubtedly do some good, though I’m
particularly skeptical of the $12.5 million allocated to job
training programs, based on the
track record of such initiatives
. And the $5.5 million that the
bank will contribute to the light rail project on Woodward Avenue
would be better spent on
improving Detroit’s unreliable albeit less glamorous public bus
system, which is what residents actually use to get around.

Speaking of “seeding future economic growth” on Woodward Avenue,
Nick
Gillespie and I looked at
the rationale behind that light rail
boondogle back in 2010. In his recent Reason TV
series, “Anarchy
in Detroit”
(which he elaborated on with an
article
in our print mag), Zach Weissmueller looked at how
bottom up initiatives, like mower gangs and experiments in
alternative living, are actually Detroit’s best hope at a
comeback.

Click below to watch the first video in the series.

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Patent Trolls Rejoice! Reform Bill Likely Dead As Sponsoring Sen. Patrick Leahy Takes It Off Agenda

After the U.S. House of Representatives
passed a patent reform bill
in December 2013, many hoped that
the Senate would soon respond in kind. But after stalling for
several months, Senate patent reform efforts suffered a likely
fatal blow today after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the
Senate Judiciary Committee, removed the patent bill he had
sponsored from the committee’s agenda. 

“Very disappointing that patent reform efforts came to a halt
with @SenatorLeahy‘s
decision today,” the R Street
Institute
, a D.C.-based think tank that has been following
patent reform efforts, tweeted this afternoon.

In
his announcement
, Sen. Leahy cited “lack of sufficient support”
as the reason for taking
the bill
off the committee’s agenda. 

We have been working for almost a year with countless
stakeholders on legislation to address the problem of patent trolls
who are misusing the patent system. This is a real problem facing
businesses in Vermont and across the country.

Unfortunately, there has been no agreement on how to combat the
scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the
companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day
to protect their inventions.  We have heard repeated concerns
that the House-passed bill went beyond the scope of addressing
patent trolls, and would have severe unintended consequences on
legitimate patent holders who employ thousands of Americans.

I have said all along that we needed broad bipartisan support to
get a bill through the Senate. Regrettably, competing
companies on both sides of this issue refused to come to agreement
on how to achieve that goal. 

Leahy concluded that he hoped they were able to return to the
issue next year, which sounds like the legislative equivalent of
“I’ll text you sometime.” 

The Senate patent reform bill wasn’t lacking for popular
support. Hundreds of companies—including tech giants such as Google
and Microsoft—urged
Senators to act on the bill, and
42 state and territorial attorneys general
 support it. The

White House undertook
its own (minor) patent reform efforts in
February.

“I am surprised and disappointed that the Senate Democrat
leadership is not willing to move forward on a bill that we’ve
worked on so hard and were ready and expecting to mark up
tomorrow,” said
Sen. Chuck Grassley
(R-Iowa) in a statement. “We put in a good
faith effort to get to this point, and it’s too bad that the bill
is being pulled from the agenda.”

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Feds to Raided Smoke Shop Owner: Say Your Sister Assaulted a Federal Agent or No Bail For You

Ridiculous miscarriage of justice out of federal court in the
western division of Texas, Pecos division.

In a federal/local raid on a “smoke shop” called the Purple Zone
in Alpine, Texas, two sisters running the place were arrested:
Ilana and Arielle Lipsen.

Arielle insists she was hit in the head with a rifle by a DEA
agent in what she characterized as an unprovoked assault. The feds,
naturally, insist that Ms. Lipsen in fact attacked the agent.

Pictures of Lipsen’s head with the alleged gun butt wound were
taken and spread on Facebook by Tom Cochran, who runs a screen
printing shop whose services the Lipsen sisters used.

The document that Ilana Lipsen had to sign to make bond, which I
have seen, included this handwritten demand among some of the more
common typeset ones like “maintain or actively seek employment” and
“surrender passport”: 

“will advice media (Kwest9 news) that he [sic] sister, arielle
lipsen, was not beaten by agents carrying/using a M16 rifle, and
her sister instigated/assaulted agents.”

The bond document also demanded she ask Tom Cochran to take his
photos of the aftermath of the raid and of Arielle’s wounded head
off Facebook; Cochran says she did make that request, and he
refused to comply. Various people complained to get Facebook to
take them down, but Cochran says Facebook investigated and decided
there was no reason to take them down. Cochran also says that once
safely free, that Ilana thanked him for not taking them
down. 

Ilana says this morning that at the advice of her lawyer she
can’t say much, but did tell me: “I was incarcerated from Tuesday
of last week and wasn’t released until Monday of this week. That
should tell you something.”

A NewsWest9
report says Lipsen did
, as ordered, recant her original
story.

The pictures have now led Cochran to suffer a public call for
boycott of his business, Big Bend Screen Printing, from the
National Border Patrol Council,
an AFL-CIO affiliate union for Border Patrol workers. (Local
station NewsWest9 has
more on that
.) Cochran finds this a weird abuse of federal
agency power, to use their name in a union to attack the livelihood
of a private citizen not facing any charges. “Their own code of
conduct says they should not use anything associated with [the
agency] for personal gain or to assert undue influence.”

Witness Nick Branson, who lived in a separate apartment with a
separate address attached to the raided store, had his home
searched as well, and thought he’s been charged with nothing had
some property taken, more property than the feds will admit to in
the property list they left him with, he complains. They took a gun
and some hard drives and flash drives and some frankincense, which
he assumes they think is illegal.

He insists that the incident happened this way: Ms. Lipsen “was
talking to another agent, she wasn’t yelling as they claim, she was
on the sidewalk, wasn’t even on the property at the time. She was
basically saying things like, ‘don’t you have better things to do
with cartels and kidnapping and human trafficking, we are 100 miles
from the border, this is what you are coming up with?’

“That’s when the same agent who told me he didn’t need a warrant
to be inside my house [and who also, Branson says, snapped back
with “what are you, a fucking lawyer?” when Branson mentioned the
Fourth Amendment] tried to grab her. She backed up, said ‘don’t
touch me.’ He said, ‘you are resisting arrest’ and basically put
his leg out, threw her over his leg onto the ground.

“She tried to get back up and he went to shove her face back
into the ground. She’s flailing at this point, obviously upset, and
he says ‘you are assaulting me’ and used his rifle butt on her neck
to pin her to the ground while other agents tackled her.”

Branson says he’s shown the picture of Lipsen to friends of his
from military who confirm that that is what it would likely look
like if a rifle butt where pressed into her neck.

Some excerpts from local news coverage, including
the Big Bend Sentinel
:

Arielle Lipsen was indicted on one count of assault on a federal
officer causing bodily injury and Ilana Lipsen was indicted on one
count of person under indictment receipt of ammunition.

Purple Zone owners Ilana Lipson, and her mother, Rosa Lipsen,
are currently under state indictment for multiple first-degree
felony manufacture, deliver, or possession of a controlled
substance following four previous raids beginning in November
2012.

They’ve pleaded not guilty to the charges.

And local TV station NewsWest9 on
the whys and results of the raid
:

On Wednesday, the DEA in partnership with Customs Border
Protection held a nationwide synthetic drug takedown named ‘Project
Synergy: Phase II” involving nearly 200 search warrants in 29
states across the U.S. The DEA says the  visit to The Purple
Zone in Alpine was one of them…..

The owner’s sister told her agents entered their business and
took their guns, two computers, cell phones, cameras and their hard
drives. She also says agents disconnected her surveillance cameras
then faced them toward the wall. The owner claims nothing she sells
is illegal, nor is it classified as a synthetic drug….

NewsWest 9 spoke with the DEA who confirms that this was a state
search warrant used in this situation, looking for synthetic
controlled substances. They say these allegations are false.

In a statement from Brewster County District Attorney, Rod
Ponton, he says, “Numerous items of evidence, including “spice”
packages, firearms, and ammunition, were seized pursuant to
warrants. When occupants refused entry to agents in possession of a
valid warrant, the door was broken down, during which action one
agent received an accidental cut, which resulted in the blood at
the scene. Ariel Lipsen was arrested for assaulting one of the
agents. Neither she nor any person involved was “beaten with the
butt of an M-16″, or assaulted in any manner.”

Interesting long stuff from Alpine Avalanche on the

background of the DEA war on synthetic drugs
.

While Lipsen’s lawyer was not available for comment this
morning, other criminal defense lawyers told me this is a strangely
abusive bail demand. Mark Kuby, who is also a talk show host in
New York
, considers it a “Texas-sized” violation of rights, “as
unprecedented as it is unconstitutional” since bail demands
properly should be restricted to furthering two government
interests: protecting the community from possible criminal action
by defendant, and to make sure the defendant appears for trial.

That said, a third criminal defense lawyer I spoke to said that
when it comes to possible co-conspirators, such demands might not
be that unusual.

Hat tip:
Wil Wheaton’s Tumblr
via colleague Jesse Walker

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Tonight on The Independents: Red Meat Wednesday, With Katherine Mangu-Ward, TV’s Andy Levy, Chris Moody on Yesterday’s Election, the Co-hosts on #StandWithRand2, and Two Minutes Hate!

A shorter stand, to be sure. |||Tonight’s episode of The
Independents
(Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT,
repeats three hours later) starts off with Party Panelists Katherine
Mangu-Ward
and Red Eye co-host Andy Levy, who will be chewing
on most of the following topics: 1) President Barack Obama’s

public response today
to the Veterans Administration
health-care fiasco
; 2) the number of people who claim
disability in the United States
reaching near 11 million
; 3) former National Football League
players
suing the NFL
for giving them unprescribed drugs; 4) alarming
news that parents are naming their babies “Kale.”

The great Yahoo News political reporter Chris Moody will join to make sense
out of last night’s election results. The co-hosts will talk about
the comparatively muted (but no less righteous)
#StandWithRand 2.0
, and then vote on which statement was more
ridonkulous—Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) saying that El Paso’s low
crime rate proves that “communism
works
,” or Donna Brazile’s recent Tweet
saying:

“Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. No need for greed
or hunger. Imagine all the ppl sharing the world.” John Lennon
#RaiseTheWage

Speaking of hashtags, your very favorite segment,
Two Minutes Hate
, is back. Whom among you shall be quoted?

Follow The Independents on Facebook at http://ift.tt/QYHXdB;
follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN. Click on
this
page
for more video of past segments.

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Study Finds E-Cigarette Users Are More Likely to Stop Smoking Than People Who Use Other Methods to Quit

According to a study
reported today in the journal Addiction, people who try to
quit smoking with the aid of electronic cigarettes are twice as
likely to succeed as people who use nicotine replacement products
such as gum or patches. The researchers, led by University College
London health economist Robert West (editor in chief of
 Addiction), surveyed a representative sample of the
British population, focusing on 5,863 subjects who had tried to
quit in the previous year unaided, with e-cigarettes, or with
over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). At the time of
the survey, 20 percent of the e-cigarette users were no longer
smoking, compared to 10.1 percent of NRT users and 15.4 percent of
those who tried to quit without any sort of nicotine replacement.
Adjusting for various possible confounding variables, including
age, sex, socioeconomic status, and strength of nicotine
dependence, West et al. found that e-cigarette users were about 60
percent more likely to succeed than either of the other two
groups.

The quit rate among e-cigarette users in this study is
one-quarter the rate found in a recent
survey
 of 19,000 e-cigarette users. But the sample for the
latter study was drawn mainly from participants in online
e-cigarette forums, who are especially enthusiastic about the
product and therefore more likely to have successfully switched
from smoking to vaping. Since West et al. used a random sample of
smokers who had tried to quit, their results are more
representative.

West et al.’s results indicate that e-cigarettes have a bigger
edge over NRTs than suggested by a
randomized
 trial
reported in The Lancet last year. In that study, the
six-month quit rate for e-cigarette users was 7.3 percent, compared
to 5.8 percent for patch users. The difference between the quit
rates in the two studies might be due to confounding variables that
West et al. did take into account. Then again, if e-cigarettes are
especially effective for people with certain traits, a randomized
trial would obscure that fact. West
argues
that clinical trials are not appropriate for measuring
the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid
because subjects who do not like the treatment to which they are
assigned tend to drop out. He also suggests that the e-cigarette
market, which is currently shifting from cigarette-like products
with disposable cartridges to vaping devices with refillable tanks,
is changing so rapidly that experimental results may be obsolete by
the time they are published.

Whether or not you agree with West, it is plainly absurd to
continue claiming, as
CDC officials do
, that the harm-reducing benefits of
e-cigarettes are merely “hypothetical.” Based on the evidence
collected so far, e-cigarettes are at least as effective as the
NRTs favored by the CDC. “E-cigarettes could substantially improve
public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge
health gains associated with stopping smoking,” West says, “It
is not clear whether long-term use of e-cigarettes carries health
risks, but from what is known about the contents of the vapor,
these will be much less than from smoking.” While “some public
health experts have expressed concern that widespread use of
e-cigarettes could ‘re-normalize’ smoking,” he adds, “we are
tracking this very closely and see no evidence of it. Smoking rates
in England are declining, quitting rates are increasing and regular
e-cigarette use among never smokers is negligible.”

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How Libertarian is the UK Independence Party?

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is
on course to either
win or come a close second
in the British segment of this
week’s elections to the European Parliament, describes itself as a
“libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain’s withdrawal from
the European Union.” How apt is that description?

The third part—seeking withdrawal from the European Union—is
undeniably true. The second part—non-racist—has
prompted
raised eyebrows in some quarters. But having met many
of the party’s officials, activists, and candidates over the years
(including
this
wonderfully straight-talking chap), I’m prepared to give
UKIP the benefit of the doubt. But does UKIP deserve the label
“libertarian”? Here, I’m with Rational Optimist Matt
Ridley
:

As the Ukip campaign ploughs steadily farther off the rails into
the anti-immigrant bushes, in search presumably of former British
National Party voters, it becomes ever easier for small-government,
classical liberals—like me—to resist its allure. Nigel Farage once
advocated flat taxes, drug decriminalisation and spending cuts. Now
his party has dropped the flat tax, opposes zero-hours contracts,
is hostile to gay marriage and talks about subsidising farmers and
growing the defence budget.

To be clear, there are some libertarians involved in UKIP, and
more supporting it from the sidelines. The party’s antipathy toward
the political elite certainly has a libertarian flavor to it, as do
a few of its individual policies. But UKIP has always been an
uncomfortable alliance of libertarianism and populist nationalism.
And in recent years, it is very much the populist nationalism that
has come to the fore. Now, as Dr Matthew Goodwin, co-author of

Revolt on the Right
, puts
it
:

UKIP are winning over the “Left Behind” groups in British
society… These are voters who hold a very different set of values
to the professional, middle-class majority: they are far more
nationalist, Eurosceptic, fiercely opposed to immigration and feel
like they have no voice in politics. They look out at a country
they neither recognize nor want to be a part of.

In this context, it is hard to see a UKIP electoral victory
striking much of a blow for individual freedom. It may represent a
kick in the face for an out-of-touch political class, but—alas—it
isn’t libertarians doing the kicking.

UKIP may once have been a libertarian political force. But for
me, that label has been out-of-date since at least 2010, when the
party ran its UK general election campaign on a virulently
anti-immigration platform. Since then, the party has been beating
an ever-more reactionary path. Libertarians still cheering its
rising fortunes should perhaps be careful what they wish for.

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U.S. Sends Warship to Black Sea, Says Russia Hasn’t Pulled Troops Yet

The United
States and Russia are flexing muscles over Ukraine. The USS Vella
Gulf, a guided missile cruiser, is heading for the Black Sea. At
the same time, there are conflicting reports about whether Russia
has withdrawn any of its 40,000 troops stationed along the
Ukrainian border.


According
to Agence France-Press, the warship will
take the place of the USS Taylor, which departed earlier this
month, because “the 1936 Montreux Convention that governs the Black
Sea bars outside countries from keeping warships in the strategic
waters more than 21 days.” Prior to the Taylor, the USS Truxtun
patrolled the sea.

Just as the previous vessels were intended to provide “strategic
reassurance
” to the region as Russia invaded and annexed Crimea
from Ukraine, the Vella Gulf is likely intended to send a
warning to Russia not to interfere with Ukraine’s presidential
election, which will take place this Sunday.

Russia announced today that it’s moving troops away from
Ukraine. Reuters
reports
:

The Kremlin said on Monday that President Vladimir Putin had
told his defense chief to order troops to pull back from the
frontier with Ukraine, where eastern regions have fallen largely
under the control of pro-Russian rebels.

After spending a day dismantling field camps, packing and
preparing military vehicles, forces in the Rostov, Belgorod and
Bryansk provinces “have begun to move toward train stations and
airfields”, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It said troops were returning to their permanent bases, but did
not specify how many troops were leaving the border provinces and
made no mention of two other provinces that border eastern
Ukraine.

Yet, this isn’t even the first time this month Russia has made
such a promise. On May 7 President Vladimir Putin made
the curious
claim
 that he had given the order and troops were already
gone, but that was almost
immediately debunked
 by satellite images that showed them
still in position. So, the West is skeptical. 

“What we know thus far is that there has been certain troop
movements, but I have received no confirmation, either through
Pentagon sources or NATO sources, that there has been a wholesale
repositioning of those troops off the border,” U.S. Army Secretary
John McHugh
said
today.

NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen
corroborated
, “I wake up every morning hoping to see a real and
meaningful withdrawal of Russian troops, but I have to tell you
that so far we have not seen any visible evidence of a withdrawal
of Russian troops.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine earns creativity points for producing little
chocolates that look like Putin in a
prison uniform
.

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Study Finds More Info Could Lead to Less Support for Intervention; Slate Depressed

boko haram?The authors of a recent paper
focusing on the success of the
viral campaign “Kony 2012”
say their findings “suggest that
when a complex adverse situation is reduced to the actions of a
clear enemy, this inspires moral outrage against the enemy.
However, if the complexity of the situation becomes clearer, the
enemy inspires less moral outrage and determination to act.” Moral
outrage, then, can fuel the determination to act, interventionism,
and both moral outrage and the desire for interventionism seem
harder to stir up when more information is available.

This ought to be a good example of why more information, and
rational thinking, are so important in creating a prudent,
non-interventionist, foreign policy. Unless, of course, you
consider relieving moral outrage to be America’s burden.
Slate social-media headlined an article on the study
 as “The Depressing Reason Why Hashtag Campaigns Like
#StopKony And #BringBackOutGirls Take Off.” Slate‘s Joshua
Keating wrote that the paper “suggests—depressingly—that the
oversimplification of the message in the original video was exactly
the reason it was successful,”
continuing
:

Defenders of campaigns like these often say that they
can be gateways toward greater understanding of complex global
issues. Viewers first get hooked on the moral outrage, then learn
more about the underlying conditions that produced the crisis,
becoming better-informed global citizens.

This paper suggests that unfortunately the opposite is true.
Viewers get interested when they hear about evil monsters like the
LRA or Boko Haram that just need to be stopped. When they learn
more about the issue and find out that, lo and behold, the world is
a very complicated place, that killing the monster won’t be so
easy and that there are larger issues in play beyond the
monster itself, they lose interest. 

I don’t see how it’s unfortunate that “better-informed global
citizens” are still coming to understand “the world is a very
complicated place.” If they choose not to be interested in
intervention, they remove from pro-interventionists a bank of
emotionalism and force them instead to argue their often naïve and
basic foreign policy ideas within the context of a “complicated”
world.

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Change to Surveillance Reform Bill Could Nullify Ban on Mass Record Collection

The USA FREEDOM Act, the
surveillance reform bill that was
unanimously approved
by the House judiciary and intelligence
committees earlier this month, has been
revised
at the Obama administration’s request to loosen its
restrictions on data collection. The version approved by the
committees said demands for records, whether pursued through secret
court orders under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act or through the
administrative subpoenas known as national security letters, had to
be based on a “specific selection term”—defined as “a term used to
uniquely describe a person, entity or account.” That provision was
aimed at banning the sort of mass collection that the National
Security Agency (NSA) used to build its controversial database of
telephone records. Instead of collecting information about the
entire population, the government would have to specify a target
(although in the case of phone records it still could have obtained
information about calls made and received by people up to two
“hops” away from the target). But the
new version
of the bill, which is the one that will go to the
House floor, redefines “specific selection term” as “a discrete
term” that “limit[s] the scope of the information or tangible
things sought.”

While the White House insists that the bill still bans mass
collection of records, the practical impact of this revision could
be dramatic. The bill says a “specific selection term” could be “a
term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address,
or device,” but it does not limit the meaning of the phrase to such
narrowly targeted data collection. Suppose the FBI,
acting on behalf of the NSA, seeks a Section 215 order for
information about every phone call made outside of Idaho. The
exclusion of Idaho could be interpreted as a discrete term limiting
the scope of the information sought.

If that scenario seems far-fetched, so does arguing that
information about every single call made by every single person in
the United States is “relevant” to a terrorism investigation
because some of those people might be terrorists. Yet that is the
argument the government made, and it was secretly accepted by the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which approved mass
collection orders under Section 215 on that basis. As Harley
Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology,

tells
The New York Times,
The government has shown remarkable capacity to
creatively interpret terms that appeared clear, like ‘relevant,’
and this definition is ambiguous enough that it allows, if not
entire-population-scale collection, large-scale collection.”
 Acknowledging that danger, the latest version of the bill
requires that any FISC decision construing “specific selection
term” be publicly disclosed, at least in summary form.

The way that phrase is interpreted will determine the
scope of government access not just to phone records but to every
other kind of information that can be obtained through national
security letters or Section 215 orders. National security letters,
which do not require judicial approval, can be used to demand credit
reports and financial information as well as email and telephone
metadata. Section 215
specifically mentions medical, educational, library, book sale, gun
purchase, and tax records. But it is applies to “any tangible
things,” so it it
covers
all sorts of records held by third parties, including
information about credit card purchases, cell phone locations,
travel, and online behavior. Under the interpretation that the
Obama administration used to justify the NSA’s phone record
dragnet, the government is authorized to collect not just some but
all such records, pertaining to every American, whether or not
there is any reason to suspect him of involvement in terrorism. As
Deputy Attorney General James Cole
explained
last year, “If you’re looking for the needle in the
haystack, you have to have the entire haystack to look
through.” Given the definition of “specific selection term”
demanded by the administration, that requirement could amount to
nothing more than leaving behind a few pieces of straw.

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