Questioning the Politics of the FISA Deal

Many people have been critical of how the Democratic leadership handled the recent FISA deal.  Blogger Glenn Greenwald notes some of the reactions. There have even been quotes that the administration got “a better deal than they hoped to get.”  I commented on the radio (KPFA, 19 minutes in) that this was not a “compromise” but a give-away.

Given all of that, it was interesting to find this piece in the Politico — How Hoyer got the deal done:

In a tense moment during negotiations over the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, Sen. Kit Bond — the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee — said that his side of the aisle could never accept one of the proposals the Democrats were pushing.

According to Democratic insiders, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer abruptly stopped the meeting and said that, if a deal was made, no one would get more grief than he would.


According to several Democratic insiders, Hoyer was able to keep the talks going by pointing out that he, more than anyone else in the room, was taking a huge political risk by trying to reach a deal.

Hoyer is the majority leader — is there a chance he’ll lose that position? He also seems safely in his seat — he soundly defeated his last primary challenger.

James Patrick Cusick, Sr. Steny H. Hoyer(Won)
19,067 (17.4%) 90,513 (82.6%)

Hoyer also soundly won the general election — the Republicans did not enter a candidate and Hoyer defeated the Green Party candidate getting 84% of the vote.

So my question is: What is the “huge political risk” Hoyer was facing?  It actually looks like he had a lot of leeway here. He had a strong position to negotiate from, and true he gave that up, but I don’t think he’s in a position to pay a price for it.

Finally, I do not get this reaction from Politico:

Hoyer knew it was coming, and he persevered anyway. That he did so speaks volumes about who he is: a master of cloakroom politics who can use his friendships across the aisle to strike deals, even if others demand that his party hew closer to the positions that put it in power in 2006.

It does not take “master[y] of cloakroom politics” to be in a safe position and then give in to the other side. I have never engaged in “cloakroom” anything, but sounds like a rookie mistake, rather than “mastery.” Politico goes on:

Hoyer said that if House Democratic leaders failed to reach a FISA deal with the White House and GOP leaders, as many as “30 Blue Dogs and another 20 to 30 members” could have signed onto a Republican discharge petition calling for a floor vote on the Senate version of the FISA bill, which was even more anathema to House Democrats than what eventually passed.

It would take a “master of cloakroom politics” to have kept that from happening. But that is not what Hoyer did.

Posted: June 24, 2008 in:

Social Networking Spyware in Washington Post

Today’s Washingon Post has an A1 story about Facebook Application privacy:

Facebook fanatics who have covered their profiles on the popular social networking site with silly games and quirky trivia quizzes may be unknowingly giving a host of strangers an intimate peek at their lives.

Those mini-programs, called widgets or applications, allow users to personalize their pages and connect with friends and acquaintances. But they could pose privacy risks. Some security researchers warn that developers of the software have assembled too much information — home town, schools attended, employment history — and can use the data in ways that could harm or annoy use.

I’ve previously blogged on the privacy issues of Facebook Apps such as the civil liberties problems when law enforcement agencies create Facebook apps.

It’s good to see this issue gaining mainstream attention, because it means that people will start thinking differently about threats to privacy online. EPIC recently testified at a hearing on spyware. The testimony included social networking applications as a possible vector for spyware.

People at the hearing talked about the need to have any legislation in this area not be technology dependent. The bill being discussed, S. 1625, included some language that was focused on PCs, but ignored other threats. The bill had sections making unlawful certain behavior. It used language like “caus[ing] the installation on [a] computer of software that” did several prohibited things, like improperly collect information or display too many popups. But that language is focused on the idea that people keep their data on their computer. With social networking, people are keeping their data online, with social networking services. This data should also be protected from new types of spyware, and we should think of improper data collection from social network services in the same way we think about improper data collection from our home computers.

Posted: June 12, 2008 in:

Neat Facebook App Named “Privacy”

I ran into a Facebook App named “privacy.” The operation is rather simple:

Privacy, the application, is a utility that provides insight into what information applications can access just by you or your friends using them.

I’ve previously blogged about the civil liberties implications of law enforcement applications.  Applications see your Facebook Site information, including:

The Facebook Site Information may include, without limitation, the following information, to the extent visible on the Facebook Site: your name, your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown location (city/state/country), your current location (city/state/country), your political view, your activities, your interests, your musical preferences, television shows in which you are interested, movies in which you are interested, books in which you are interested, your favorite quotes, the text of your “About Me” section, your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history, your course information, copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums, metadata associated with your Facebook Site photo albums (e.g., time of upload, album name, comments on your photos, etc.), the total number of messages sent and/or received by you, the total number of unread messages in your Facebook in-box, the total number of “pokes” you have sent and/or received, the total number of wall posts on your Wall™, a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends, your social timeline, and events associated with your Facebook profile.

The “privacy” application is another way to communicate to people just how much these thousands of third-party developers have access to.

Posted: June 9, 2008 in: