Congress helped privacy activists to a great achievement last week by doing nothing. The brief sunset of the USA PATRIOT ACT on June 1 was the first step in the right direction on government surveillance since before 9/11.
Of course, the ending provisions were quickly reenacted in the fake-reform USA FREEDOM Act passed the next day.
There may be some confusion because many organizations supported an early version of this bill that had real reforms, but changed position on it weeks or months ago after it was watered down. Even if previously one was to celebrate the mild and misguided reforms in the USA FREEDOM Act, consider that after the sunset of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT ACT, this is in fact a huge expansion of the legal allowance for surveillance.
I was dismayed to find that Senators Warren and Markey voted for the bill, and surprised, given their positive track record on the issue. I don’t quite believe Markey and Reich and other Democratic favorites are fooled, though perhaps jaded; I find their statements disingenuous. Note the lack of even a throwaway “there is more to be done.”
For what it’s worth, Sanders gets it right every time.
Still, even with the small net gain, it is heartening to see Congress take any step to roll back surveillance. We can make progress.
Organizations cover what happened, whether it’s a good thing, and what’s next:
“The civil liberties community was split on this bill. Some civil liberties groups, most of them based in Washington, D.C., along with tech industry groups and pundits in the mainstream media were quick to call the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act a major victory. CREDO supported the 2013 USA FREEDOM Act. But after its first introduction it was watered down and contorted beyond recognition. We not only pulled our support from subsequent versions of the bill, but fought vigorously to stop it from passing. …”
“But sadly, most Democrats in both the House and Senate failed to show the same commitment to our civil liberties as Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul, and Reps. Massie, Amash and Poe and Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan and Barbara Lee. The overwhelming majority of Democrats ultimately voted in favor of more mass surveillance. Even more disappointing, President Obama is competing with George W. Bush in using fear mongering to champion making PATRIOT Act powers permanent.”
“[W]e withdrew our support from the bill in an effort to spur Congress to strengthen some of its privacy protections and out of concern about language added to the bill at the behest of the intelligence community.
Even so, we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating because, however small, this bill marks a day that some said could never happen—a day when the NSA saw its surveillance power reduced by Congress.”
“Each member of the Senate who voted for the USA Freedom Act will now be on record for re-instating—with full knowledge of its illegal usage—a piece of the largest scale violation of the US Constitution in America’s history. They will carry that failure into the next elections, and through the rest of their political careers.”