What The USA FREEDOM Act Doesn't Fix

from the lots-more-to-go dept

We've discussed the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced in the Senate by Senator Leahy and in the House by Rep. Sensenbrenner a few times now, pointing out that it really does look to rein in the worst of the NSA's abuses. It also has the best chance of any proposal to date of getting passed. That doesn't mean the bill is perfect, and it has plenty of problems. The good folks over at EFF have given some conditional support to the bill, noting that it "would be a substantial improvement to America’s laws regarding mass surveillance" and does a bunch of very important things in response to the overreach by the US government.

However, the group notes, the bill should be a "floor, not a ceiling." That is, it needs to be a starting point, because there are all sorts of problems it doesn't yet fix.

The bill only addresses a small portion of the problems created by NSA spying and overreaching government secrecy. It does not touch problems like NSA programs to sabotage encryption standards, it does not effectively tackle the issue of collecting information on people outside of the United States, and it doesn't address the authority that the government is supposedly using to tap the data links between service provider data centers, such as those owned by Google and Yahoo.

The bill also does not address a key issue that the government uses to inhibit lawsuits contesting the spying: excessive secrecy. For instance, it won't deal with the major over-classification issues or the state secrets privilege, the latter of which is used aggressively to prevent litigation from getting to a court decision on whether the spying is unconstitutional. The bill also leaves out a clause appearing in Sen. Ron Wyden's bill, which provides guidelines to obtain standing in legal cases against the spying.

Lastly, it does not hold public officials accountable for their role in allowing this spying to take place and hiding it from public and Congressional oversight, and it does not create a Congressional committee that could independently investigate the surveillance programs and give the country a full accounting. Remember we are still just learning the full depth of the programs on a piecemeal basis.

I know that some people would prefer bills that do in fact cover all of that, and are against the USA FREEDOM Act for not going nearly far enough. There is, also, quite a legitimate fear that there is likely to only be appetite for one bill in Congress, so if the USA FREEDOM Act passes, all of the other missed issues will never get addressed. That's a legitimate fear, but it's going to be difficult enough to get the USA FREEDOM Act approved in the first place, and if people fight against it just because it doesn't include everything, there's a decent chance we'll get nothing at all.
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Filed Under: jim sensenbrenner, nsa, patrick leahy, surveillance, usa freedom act


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  1. identicon
    The Real Michael, 20 Nov 2013 @ 6:58am

    It's a sad state of affairs when federal agencies with little-to-no oversight present the greatest threat to freedom.

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