NSA Stops Spying and World Doesn't End! But Civil Liberties Still in Congress' Cross Hairs

Nick Bernabe
June 1, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) Washington D.C. — It was one of the biggest under-reported stories of last week — Congress failed to renew Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and the world didn’t end! Parts of this section were recently ruled illegal by the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court, namely the provisions which allowed for the bulk data collection of US citizens by the NSA, made famous by Edward Snowden.

Despite the greatest efforts by Senate leaders to come to an agreement last night to continue bulk-spying on Americans, the renewal was blocked by civil libertarians in the Senate led by Rand Paul. All the fear-mongering stops were pulled out, but in the end it didn’t matter; the renewal was dead in the water.

However, we’re not completely in the safe yet. Politicians have cooked up a new ironically named piece of legislation called the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048), and it’s pretty much just as bad as its big brother the PATRIOT Act. The bill was originally crafted to legitimately check the government’s spying abilities. However, surveillance hawks in the House and Senate have stripped all of the meaningful reforms from the legislation. The USA FREEDOM Act, set to be debated in the Senate this week, is now a “reform in name only” and will continue to undermine our right to privacy if passed.

According to a statement by civil libertarian Congressman Justin Amash,

“You will read all sorts of stories and headlines about how the latest USA FREEDOM Act ends ‘bulk’ collection. It doesn’t. In fact, the bill expressly authorizes, for the first time, the NSA, FBI, and other government agencies to unconstitutionally collect data in bulk on potentially millions of law-abiding Americans.”

Amash was right: the corporate media has been trying to sell the US public the USA FREEDOM Act as a genuine reform to the NSA’s mass invasion of privacy. But the corporate media is selling soap. Civil liberties destroying soap, watered down by the surveillance industry.

His statement continued, “H.R. 2048 threatens to undo much of the progress resulting from the Second Circuit’s opinion. The bill’s sponsors, and, unfortunately, some outside advocacy groups, wrongly claim that H.R. 2048 ends ‘bulk’ collection. It’s true that the bill ends the phone dragnet as we currently know it—by having the phone companies themselves hold, search, and analyze certain data at the request of the government, which is worse in many ways given the broader set of data the companies hold—but H.R. 2048 actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data.”

The USA FREEDOM Act merely shifts the data collection responsibilities to your phone company, where they can later obtain the data using the same ever-so-secretive FISA courts. This means that warrant-less spying by the NSA will continue, except their Big Data partners will be doing the manual labor. The USA FREEDOM Act would expand the amount of data that the NSA and other spy agencies have access to since phone companies collect large, diverse quantities of data from users.


However, some privacy advocates believe the bill can be salvaged. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation,

“The Senate is uniquely positioned to improve the civil liberties protections in the USA Freedom Act by adding additional transparency and oversight provisions, adding stronger limitations on the collection of data on innocent people, and throwing out some of the recently-added provisions to the bill that were included at the behest of the intelligence community.”

Amash echoed these sentiments,

“H.R. 2048 falls woefully short of reining in the mass collection of Americans’ data, and it takes us a step in the wrong direction by specifically authorizing such collection in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Americans, and members of Congress, should demand that Congress instead pass the original, bipartisan version of the USA FREEDOM Act from 2013, which strengthened—not weakened—Section 215’s relevance standard to end bulk collection.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is urging the public to take action to ensure this civil liberties-destroying language is dropped and actual protections are put into place before this bill is passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama.

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