The worst parts of the Patriot Act expired on Sunday night, but it looks like the USA Freedom Act will fill the void left in the hearts of advocates for mass surveillance.
It’s only been two days since three key sections of the Patriot Act expired Sunday night. At the time, the Senate voted 77-17 to move ahead with voting on the USA Freedom Act, but the Senate adjourned without final action on the bill after Senator Rand Paul asserted his prerogative under Senate rules to delay a final vote for several days.
Paul’s move ensured that section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is used to justify mass collection of Americans’ personal data, would expire at least for a few days.
This brief respite from NSA mass surveillance appears to be nearing an end before it even got started. The Senate passed the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday with a vote of 67-32. The House passed the same bill last month, so the next stop will be the President’s desk.
Supporters of the USA Freedom act claim they have ended the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of the communication data of million of Americans. However, rather than ending the collection of data, the bill only restructures how the data is collected.
However, Section 215 of that law will be changed to stop the NSA from continuing its mass phone data collection program. Instead, phone companies will retain the data and the NSA can obtain information about targeted individuals with permission from a federal court.
The Senate’s hard-fought passage of the USA Freedom Act represented a major victory for privacy rights advocates in Congress. It also highlighted that those advocates within the Republican Party now have the upper hand over traditional GOP defense hawks such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had fought to renew the Patriot Act without changes.
The USA Freedom Act should not be celebrated by libertarians. If you don’t believe me, take it from Rep. Justin Amash. Amash was a co-sponsor of the legislation in the House, but he ended up voting against the bill because it was diluted and significantly altered behind the scenes.
The Michigan congressman, who was an original cosponsor of the USA Freedom Act, said he was “proud” of the work he and others did to promote the bill, but that he could not support the draft legislation as it is currently written.
“This morning’s bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program,” Amash wrote on his Facebook page. “It claims to end bulk collection’ of Americans’ data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.”
Amash said that the bill, which was originally drafted by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., was “so weakened” by behind-the-scenes negotiations that it allows the government to order large swaths of American phone records “without probable cause.”
For example, the government could order AT&T to turn over all phone records for a particular area code or for “phone calls made east of the Mississippi,” according to Amash.
The current bill also extends the Patriot Act’s controversial section 215, which allows for the bulk collection of data, until 2017. The original bill expired that section in 2015.
Nothing like a little Fascism on a Tuesday afternoon to remind you that you live in the land of the free! U-S-A, U-S-A!
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