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.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Apr 2015 @ 2:16pm

    'No debate needed or wanted'

    That, right there, is really all you need to know about how bad the programs are.

    Their defenders do everything they can to avoid an open debate, because they know, if people were actually allowed to fact check their claims, and they couldn't just coast by with fearmongering, the programs would be shown to be utterly useless at anything other than destroying the rights of the public.

    They know that the programs are indefensible, so they don't even try.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2015 @ 5:40pm

      Re: 'No debate needed or wanted'

      There is one thing it's good at. Swallowing taxpayer money. It can do that by the billions at a gulp. I constantly hear the Repubs screaming about how this or that has to be funded with equal cuts somewhere else when they aren't in the power seat. It seems mighty scarce now a days to hear this same cry when they want to load a program into being without worrying about how to pay for it. Eliminating this should put another penny back in the bucket of taxpayer's money that we are paying for and don't want.

      I guess we should be grateful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TomStone (profile), 8 Apr 2015 @ 4:11pm

    That group in the middle is very well aware of who has all their emails and phone records and it ain't the shadow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 8 Apr 2015 @ 5:14pm

    Why no debate?

    My guess is that the NSA has so much dirt on every senator and congressperson that they basically told them "vote for it or go to prison"... Nothing else would explain Obama's reversal of position against FISA before he became President. Overnight, he switched positions from staunchly against it to staunchly for it. It's the canary in the coal mine...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2015 @ 7:07pm

      Re: Why no debate?

      It's scary because this sounds so believable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 10 Apr 2015 @ 1:02pm

        I have friends that are lizardman-UFO-HAARP conspiracy theorists.

        And rather than dismissing their notions as bunk, I point out that the reason that we're all so paranoid (and yes, non-lizardman guys are too) is because there really are government conspiracies playing out and we're picking up that things are not right.

        This is why the five-man assassination team featuring the guy at the grassy knoll is so palatable when we discuss the Kennedy assassination. That era had conspiracies piled upon each other and it was clear those in government were showing less and less interest in what was the good of the people.

        It doesn't matter where in the shadows hide the guns and Damoclean blades that keep our representatives and administrators in step. But there's no question that these weapons are there.

        There's no question that those people don't work for us.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 8 Apr 2015 @ 8:41pm

      Re: Why no debate?

      A few years ago I might have considered that paranoid crazy talk, real tin-foil hat territory. These days? Given everything else they've been caught doing, which I'm sure isn't even close to the worst they've done, a little blackmail and 'persuasion' to protect their programs and their power wouldn't surprise me in the least.

      I mean hell, we've got agencies kidnapping and torturing people, agencies constantly making their own home-grown 'terrorists' and then using them for fearmongering, agencies spying on the american public and grabbing every little bit of information they can get their hands on... a little bribery/blackmail is pretty minor compared to everything else the government is doing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JBDragon (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 11:58am

      Re: Why no debate?

      Obama not only extended it, he expanded it what what it is now!!! I didn't like it under Bush, and Obama made it worse.
      It really needs to go.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 5:38am

    We all know it will be renewed. This is the most corrupt and criminal administration to date. There is no way in hell they will not renew something that allows them to keep committing treason and crimes and all they have to say is national security when caught.

    Maybe Obama will just bypass congress again in this case and renew it by executive order.

    The only thing that will happen if the patriot act gets repealed is that those alphabet agencies can no longer validate their crimes against Americans by saying its legalized. Instead they will keep committing these crimes no matter that's it illegal once more. They currently blatantly ignore the laws when it comes to people's rights so why would this case be any different.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 6:03am

    It is going to pass. No way are they going to throw away the keys to the candy shop. With the power it gives them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 9 Apr 2015 @ 9:21am

      Re:

      Rather the power they see wielded in their name, including against themselves. Congress members actually only get to be at the receiving end of those tools.

      That's the opposite of power decorated with a faint illusion of it.

      Only delusional idiots would approve that. But then we are talking about U.S. Congress here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 10:40am

    Can we get rid of the FISA court as well?

    A secret court that does secret interpretations of secret law I'm pretty sure adds huge points to your oppressive dystopia index.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 4:49pm

    Predictability

    "Just watch: it's what's going to happen this time again."

    Yep. That pretty much sums up the whole thing quite nicely.

    Move along folks. Nothing to see here. Just Government Inaction, protecting its ass from the Adversary, as usual.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    justme, 9 Apr 2015 @ 5:53pm

    Political Coercion. . .

    Concern about these programs leading to political blackmail is justified, look at J. Edger Hoover and his collection of private file on anyone he believed was a threat to him personal or the FBI's authority.

    Obama i think is more an issue of wanting to build consensus and not understanding that the people advising you will always tilt heavily toward there own specialty. So the advise is usually extremely one sided and rarely a thoughtfully considered and balanced policy position!! That's his job as president, and as a supporter, it's something i had hoped he would be better at considering his background in constitutional law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Drunkard, 9 Apr 2015 @ 6:40pm

    I like that you point out that the president of the United States is head of the Executive Branch. He is not just Commander in Chief, he is also the Top Cop.

    If the current NSA leadership will not obey an order to discontinue the surveillance program they can be replaced through the power of the president.

    Barack Obama does not want this to stop or it would be stopped.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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