USA Freedom Act Fails To Move Forward... For Incredibly Stupid Reasons

from the onto-the-next-round dept

So, this evening the USA Freedom Act failed to get the 60 votes it needed for cloture to "advance" to a full floor vote. It ended up at 58 to 42. There was a short debate prior to the vote, and the debate was... stupid. Yes, there are some legitimate concerns with the USA Freedom Act, mostly in that it doesn't go far enough. But that's not what the debate was about at all. You had a bunch of bizarrely clueless Senators, many of whom insisted they were against the act because it would take the bulk collection out of the hands of the NSA and put it into the hands of the telcos -- with the claim being that the NSA could keep that data safer. Senators Susan Collins and Saxby Chambliss kept harping on that point. But it's flat out wrong. Because the whole point of this is that the telcos already have this data. The debate is between "telcos have the data" and "telcos and NSA have the data." Arguing that telcos-only is inherently more likely to lead to a privacy violation makes no sense at all.

Chambliss went further, repeating (over and over again) that it's okay for the NSA to have this data because only 22 people have access to it. Of course, as Marcy Wheeler points out, that's not true. 22 people can authorize a search based on "reasonable articulable suspicion" but many others can access the results. Furthermore, as Harley Geiger points out, the problem is not even at the point of access, but collection, and there's nothing in the law that says the limit is always 22. Frankly, the whole 22 people debate seems strange to me. Is Chambliss really arguing that it's okay to violate the 4th Amendment if only 22 people can do it?

Separately, Senator Dianne Feinstein very reluctantly supported the bill, noting that she's very afraid that if this bill doesn't pass, the whole Section 215 program will go away. Frankly, that actually sounded like a good reason not to support the bill. She also kept insisting that it wasn't being abused because there were only "288" searches last year on that data. First of all, 288 already seems like quite a lot to me, and again we go to Marcy Wheeler for the fact check, where she points out that it's not 288 searches, but rather 288 "selectors," which could be queried multiple times (and those selectors could scoop up lots of data).

Hopefully, it turns out that Senator Feinstein's "fears" on this bill were accurate, and that it leads to the end of Section 215 altogether. But, the completely bogus debate over this effort just highlights how ridiculous the idea is that the Senate has any sort of "oversight" over the NSA, or that it has the interests of the Constitution or the public in mind.

Filed Under: bulk data collection, dianne feinstein, nsa, patrick leahy, privacy, saxby chambliss, senate, surveillance, surveillance reform, susan collins, usa freedom act

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 5:32pm

    This vote was nothing more than a dog and pony show. You don't bring a vote like this to the floor unless you know whether it's going to pass or not, and if this were going to pass it would have never come up for a vote.

    This is misdirection at it's finest. The government's way of saying "well, we wanted to rain in the NSA, but gosh darn-nit, security is a tough choice and sometimes, as much as we hate it, you just have to air on the side of caution."

    And the circus continues...

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