Crunch Time For Surveillance: PATRIOT Act Renewal Vote Next Month A Key Metric In The Fight Against Surveillance
from the will-congress-wimp-out dept
In the nearly two years since the first of the Ed Snowden revelations, Congress has proceeded to carefully avoid fixing anything. There have been some votes that have come close, and some attempts to reform the program, but, in part because nothing gets through Congress, nothing has really happened. This is even though the author of the PATRIOT Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, has said that the Act is being misinterpreted to allow mass surveillance and while President Obama himself has called for the program to be changed (though he has failed to step up and stop it himself, even though he has the power to do so).
As we’ve mentioned a few times, however, much of this comes to a head in the next month and a half — because Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act officially sunsets as of June 1st — so if Congress doesn’t pass legislation renewing it, the program dies. Admittedly, this is just one program — and there are many other problematic programs that are covered by other parts of the law… but one thing at a time. A bunch of activist groups have gotten together to now launch a campaign looking to convince Congress to not renew Section 215 and you can (and should) use it to contact your elected officials.
Meanwhile, Trevor Timm has a good overview concerning what’s at stake:
The massive phone dragnet is not the only thing Section 215 is used for though. As independent journalist Marcy Wheeler has meticulously documented, Section 215 is likely being used for all sorts of surveillance that the public has no idea about. There are an estimated 180 orders from the secret Fisa court that involve Section 215, but we know only five of them are directed at telecom companies for the NSA phone program. To give you a sense of the scale: the one Fisa order published by the Guardian from the Snowden trove compelled Verizon to hand over every phone record that it had on all its millions of customers. Every single one.
While the government claims that its other uses of Section 215 are ?critical? to national security, it?s extremely hard to take their word for it. After all, the government lied about collecting information on millions of Americans under Section 215 to begin with. Then they claimed the phone surveillance program was ?critical? to national security after it was exposed. That wasn?t true either: they later had to admit it has never stopped a single terrorist attack.
Of course, you may notice that even though this supposedly “critical” program is set to sunset in under two months there has so far been absolutely no debate whatsoever about the renewal. Don’t be surprised. This is totally par for the course. Back in 2011 — the last time these parts of the PATRIOT Act were extended — there was no debate and Congress rushed it through with 74 Senators voting against even allowing a debate over the provisions.
Similarly, at the end of 2012, when the FISA Amendments Act was up for renewal, surveillance state defenders waited until the very end, and then insisted there was no need for debate. Senator Ron Wyden finally forced some debate by threatening to put a hold on the bill. And so, with just days to spare, the Senate held a very weak last minute debate in which a bunch of our elected officials made blatantly false or misleading statements — peppered with the usual FUD about “terrorism! national security!” — until the extension passed.
Things are at least a little different this time around, as the Snowden revelations have made this issue a bigger deal. But, history has shown that Congress will do almost anything to avoid debating the issue, and then at the last minute will scream about how we’re all going to die if the program isn’t renewed. Just watch: it’s what’s going to happen this time again. That is, unless enough people reach out to their Congressional Representatives and Senators to let them know this is unacceptable. The surveillance state hawks will always defend the program. And the civil liberties supporters will always fight against it. But there’s a huge group in the middle that really hasn’t taken a stand on this issue — and it’s imperative that they know that their constituents don’t want them to continue supporting the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.