USA Freedom Act Passes As All Of Mitch McConnell's Bad Amendments Fail

from the moving-forward-with-reform dept

As we noted yesterday, rather than allow real (and important) amendments to be added to the USA Freedom Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “filled the tree” with his own amendments that would have stripped out the few small, but important reforms in the USA Freedom Act. Thankfully, however, this afternoon, all of his amendments failed pretty conclusively — allowing McConnell to then give a ridiculous speech on the floor of the Senate about how upset he is that the President has made us all less safe in this time of mounting threats (note that it’s always a time of mounting threats). He also repeated an Associated Press headline about how the expiration of Section 215 was “a resounding victory for Edward Snowden” as if that was an insult, and then noted that it was “also” a “resounding victory” for terrorists who wished to harm us. In other words, a bunch of fear-mongering garbage.

After that, the full vote was taken, and the USA Freedom Act passed by an overwhelming margin, 67 to 32. The bill is likely to be signed by the President within the next few hours, if not sooner.

I know that some people don’t like the USA Freedom Act, but it does include many useful reforms as a starting point. But that’s it. Real reform to the surveillance state just happened. That’s worth celebrating. But it’s only a first step and it’s not nearly enough. A lot more needs to be done, starting right away. Stopping abuses under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333 are the next things that need to be taken care of, but there’s a lot more beyond that. This is a real step forward in preventing abusive surveillance, but it’s just one step.

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Comments on “USA Freedom Act Passes As All Of Mitch McConnell's Bad Amendments Fail”

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42 Comments
sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Filling the tree?

From the Wikipedia article (Thanks for the link, BTW):

Depending on the particular bill, one of four trees may be used: the first tree has room for three amendments, the second and third trees have room for five amendments, and the fourth tree has room for 11 (or 12 in rare instances) amendments.[2] To fill the tree, none of the slots may be left available.

I’m just picturing the meeting where people came up with these rules. Does 3-5-5-11 (or rarely 12 – and why does it get to be the sole exception?) have some significance I’m missing? Did they just roll the dice? Or maybe one 12-sided die?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Representative democracy is a misnomer"

Representative democracy is at least a misnomer when referring to the US system of representation, but I don’t think a true representative democracy is impossible.

If we were able to utilize the internet to allow constituents to express their personal best interests and see with near-perfect transperancy how each representative represents their constituency as precisely as possible, that would qualify as a true representative democracy, even if the consituents fail to effectively utilize such a program, or represent their own practical best interests (say, preferring moral-values interests instead).

(A question that arrises is: Would it be more effective to implement such a program, or to create a program that allows every citizen to create, search for and up/down vote referenda that suit their own personal agenda, hence creating a true participatory democracy?)

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Representative democracy is a misnomer"

I don’t think we have the infrastructure in the US to pull off a full participatory democracy yet. Too many Americans live in rural areas to provide fast broadband to everyone at a reasonable cost. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we reached that level by the end of the century. If we did have that level of infrastructure though, I’d be in favor of a full participatory democracy (even though it’d require a rewriting of the Constitution since I don’t think Amendments would be enough).

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Constraints

That an unfettered participatory democracy would result in a tyranny of the majority, I have no doubt. Legislative procedure is by necessity an engine with which we attempt to comb out rule based on human cognitive biases from rule based on pure reason.

I don’t think the Constitution was limiting enough what kinds of laws could be passed. To this day we’re still seeing the oppression of minorities by xenophobic majorities, only in the name of religion or order or — well I don’t even know what to call the justification for letting police murder black people with impunity. That. — To be fair, it’s more that the bill of rights is too easy to justify away, or ignore at convenience. If we had WATSON-based legal computers that could always detect and note bill-of-rights interactions. The Bill of Rights might be better respected.

I think we choose to rule by democracy because we have no means by which to fairly choose the wise from the inept or biased. But yes, in our hypothetical future participatory-democracy-by-internet, we’d obviously have to be able to filter out legislation that would be obviously unfair to minorities because the majority can’t think past their own greed and fear.

Better yet, we would create a system which would naturally be inclined to develop such immunities, preferably without what we’ve seen so far, the long periods of suffering horrible status quo before a group gets angry enough to wage open revolt.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So what, in your view, is “the ailment”?

I’ll go with rampant aspirations of tyranny.

It’s also a bit humorous to imagine from afar all those expectant petty tyrants trying to shoulder each other out of the way trying to get to the top of the heap without finding an unexpected knife in their backs.

I was expecting much better from this century. It’s pathetic that we still suffer from BS like this, yet we elected these twits to represent us.

Anonymous Coward says:

Step forward? Not so much...

It was an *opportunity* for real reform. The measure of success is whether the typically misnamed “Freedom Act” will actually change anything the TLA agencies do. The NSA will still get everything they want – they just have to get the ever compliant FISA Court to approve. The FBI will still write their own warrants, er, National Security Letters. Of course these aren’t warrants, they’re infinitely better since they don’t need meddlesome judges and may come with a permanent gag order. It goes on and on, but this was a wasted opportunity and we ended up with little more than political theater.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Step forward? Not so much...

The measure of success is whether the typically misnamed “Freedom Act” will actually change anything the TLA agencies do. The NSA will still get everything they want – they just have to get the ever compliant FISA Court to approve. The FBI will still write their own warrants, er, National Security Letters. Of course these aren’t warrants, they’re infinitely better since they don’t need meddlesome judges and may come with a permanent gag order. It goes on and on, but this was a wasted opportunity and we ended up with little more than political theater.

I disagree. Is this reform weak? Yes. But it is still reform, and some of the elements are important and useful. But, you are right that it’s not nearly enough. Don’t be cynical and reject it just because we didn’t get everything. Just keep fighting to get more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Step forward? Not so much...

You are both right! You know what the other Coward said will happen.

There is only 1 method for recourse against rouge authority and that is to bring it into the light. NSL and the like keep it squarely in the dark, so no matter what reforms we pass will likely be window dressing.

We have seen tons of these ‘Glimmer of Hope’ bills get passed only for that glimmer to be over shadowed by loops holes yet to be discovered or just outright “we don’t give a fuck come sue us if you don’t like it and good luck getting a judge to agree we own them too!” shenanigans!

Yes, it is nice to see some reform, but lets get real… what is it really going to do in the current “we won’t indict unless you pissed off the wrong Politician” environment we have up there. Those bastards are all in cahoots!

Anonymous Coward says:

Rand Paul said he intended to add some amendments to it, but I guess if the House warned McConnell about adding new amendments, because they had already struck the “right balance” (or so they say), then they would’ve probably rejected Rand Paul’s amendments, too, even if they were approved by the Senate (which probably wouldn’t have been).

Still, I think it would’ve been worth a shot. The House may have compromised on a shitty bill (which actually was much stronger initially, until the House Committee got their hands on it), I think most in House right now actually want some more drastic reform for the NSA, more so than most of those in Senate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In fact, the boston bombing was nothing less than children seeking attention. None of it had nothing to do with attacking the US but rather a lost generation seeking attention from the rest of the world straight out of Chechnya.

Have you seen the beheading videos from that country?

It’s way out of control….

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Receding isn’t the right word I’d say. For a ‘threat’ to be ‘receding’, it would have had to have been a legitimate threat in the first place, which terrorism never has been statistically. Sure they can kill a couple dozen, or hundred, or even thousand people, but so do dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of other things, and on a far more regular basis, yet people accept those ‘threats’ as just part of life and move on.

Terrorism is only as much of a threat as people and the government let it be, and it’s disappointing that the government treats it as an opportunity, and the public falls for it time and time again, rather than just treating it as what it really is, just another potential danger to be rationally approached, with measured responses, but otherwise ignored.

Anonymous Coward says:

So the spyware corporations finally got their letter of marque, officially authorizing Google/Facebook/telcos/etc to continue their piracy of personal data.

It is a nice arrangement – the privateers of Silicon Valley get their their excuse for why they re storing personal data, and the government doesn’t need to get warrants when the surveillance-as-a-business-model corporation simply volunteer the data to the government.

Lawrence Lessig was right – this is all just a fancy way of saying we have a terminal corruption problem in what is left of our country. How bad is it going to get? I don’t know, but I suggest listening to Aral Balkan’s description of just how bad our situation already is.

Later on, once we achieve some real progress on these fundamental problems, we can regain the luxury of being able to waste time and effort on our usual political fighting.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: Re:

You can avoid using companies you don’t like. You can’t avoid the NSA unless you go live in the woods with no electricity and running water and a camouflage tarp stretched over your roof and lawn to thwart spy satellites.
Of course, this will seem suspicious and the NSA will send some guy with night-vision goggles and a bear suit to watch you.

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