Libertarians and constitutionalists feel betrayed by the long hated extreme surveillance measures implemented in the misnamed Patriot Act (should be named Surveillance of Americans Act) of October 2001, six weeks after 9/11. Authors of the bill knew at the time such measures meant an unprecedented expansion of government and loss of privacy for most Americans — hence the five year renewal provisions of the more Draculan parts. Both recent presidents have requested its continuance in 2005 and again in 2010.
Sen.Rand Paul’s heroic June 1 Senate filibuster helped prevent the Senate from extending the Patriot Act, as wanted by most Republicans, and as had happened twice before. Thank God, Paul and the Democrats for its defeat. The five-year renewal of the Patriot Act did not have the votes. Instead, we got virtually the same thing in the so-called USA Freedom Act, again misnamed. How can freedom be enhanced by the government’s enhanced surveillance of its own citizens? Thanks to President Barack Obama and the Republicans, government’s unwarranted and indefinite storage of private records and communications continues.
Critics find the new spy law more hype than substance with only slightly less intrusive spying laws than the previous citizen spy law — The Patriot Act. Private communications are still confiscated and stored against the will of its owner and without probable cause or warrant. Once a conspiracy theory, until Edward Snowden, two years ago, provided the indisputable evidence that the government actively spies on its own people in the “freest land in the world.”
Deep Orwellian governmental intrusion into the lives of innocent Americans is the new normal and is to continue as before with one difference. The notorious Section 215, authorizing bulk data collection, was changed requiring private telecommunication companies to collect the bulk data (it is now illegal for them not to) and store the information themselves at their own expense, rather than to immediately give it to the government as before. Amazingly this is just after a US Department of Justice report revealed “the FBI did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders.” If it has not helped the government catch a single bad guy in all these years, why then do we do it? This is never explained. It must be about power.
Section 215 was also used to track financial data and transactions and to obtain companies’ Internet business records. It was Edward Snowden who enlightened us on the extent of its invasiveness to personal information. He wrote: “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
Telecommunication companies now must provide the information when requested by the federal government. They have lost their freedom not to collect and not to give your private information. They are now, in essence, agents of the federal government and bulk data collection continue under them. As such the USA Freedom Act provides these corporations liability protection should you wish to sue for their disclosure of your sensitive information. Some call it a shell game; the federal government still gets your information just as before.
Probably columnist Daniel Mcadams said it best in an article “The Freedom Act is WORSE than the Patriot Act,” because it “turns private telecommunications companies into depositories of ‘pre-crime’ data for future use of state security agencies…. In other words, an individual under no suspicion of any crime and thus deserving full Fourth and Fifth Amendment protection will nevertheless find himself providing evidence against his future self should that person ever fall under suspicion. That is not jurisprudence in a free society.” Ironically the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled bulk collection of citizens’ records an illegal act. Congress ignored this ruling and essentially declared the same practice legal in the USA Freedom Act. Mcadams asks, “How does making an unconstitutional and illegal act into a legal one a benefit to civil liberties?”
Moreover, the Freedom Act expanded the phone records program to include cell phone records in addition to landline records. An act to curb the unruly NSA merely enlarged it. Roving wiretaps and lone wolf surveillance (those deemed by the federal government to be dangerous but not connected with an international terrorist organization) authority remains in place. The Patriot Act is now repackaged with a new name, The USA Freedom Act. And as with the first, which had nothing to do with patriotism, the real patriots are those who oppose and expose this power grab, its sister act has noting to do with freedom. After the change strangely everything remains the same.
Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. Read more at www.LibertyUnderFire.org.