During Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster of the Patriot Act over its surveillance programs, both Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee took to the Senate floor to support Paul. However, Cruz and Lee spoke in favor of the USA Freedom Act while Paul said that bill would need significant reforms to satisfy him.
Advocates of the Freedom Act claim it will reform the NSA’s spying on Americans, but security experts and a growing number of congressmen say that it won’t change much of anything. The bill is putting some of Congress’s most ardent defenders of liberty, including a few presidential candidates, at odds.
“What no one wants to say out loud is that (the USA Freedom Act) is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing burger for the privacy community,” said a former senior intelligence official. Some officials think that the Freedom Act opens the door for the NSA to collect more types of records, not less.
With co-sponsors like conservatives Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, one would think the Freedom Act would be meaningful reform of the NSA to stop the dragnet collection of the phone records of American citizens. Upon closer examination, it may actually help enable this practice.
Republican Congressmen like Thomas Massie, Justin Amash, Raul Labrador, and Dave Brat all voted against the Freedom Act, which they say will not do enough to ensure that our Fourth Amendment rights are protected.
“While (the USA Freedom Act) was a good attempt to try to stop the bulk collection,” said Rep. Brat, “some of its wording still leaves considerable gaps that greatly concern me.” It’s the loopholes that are leaving many skeptical of the bill.
Rep. Amash said, “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 goes on to explain that the Freedom Act authorizes “the government to order the production of records based upon a ‘specific selection term.’ … ‘Specific selection term’ is defined so broadly under the bill as to have little effect on narrowing the scope of items the government may obtain through a 215 order.”
In an interview with Red Millennial, national security expert Robert Caruso disagreed, saying, “The Freedom Act would effectively end Section 215.” He expressed his own concerns about the possible infringements of civil liberties while maintaining that “Section 215 is working” and necessary in the War on Terror.
“It has been an effective tool,” said Caruso, “and to stop it now would directly impact national security in a negative way.”
“Section 215 currently allows the NSA to target individuals without knowing their identities,” Caruso explained.
Rep. Amash says the original Freedom Act, as drafted in 2013, would have been an acceptable reform, but the current version has been watered down to the point that it is better not to pass it at all.
In a statement Rep. Labrador said, “The USA Freedom Act still fails to prevent the government from accessing Americans’ private information.”
Both Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are aggressively pushing the Freedom Act. In a statement, Cruz said, “The USA Freedom Act ends the NSA’s unfettered data collection program once and for all, while at the same time preserving the government’s ability to obtain information to track down terrorists when it has sufficient justification and support for doing so.”
Brat counters, “While the bill certainly creates some very needed reforms, we’ve seen what happens when the executive branch isn’t specifically limited by Congress. I don’t like leaving the decision of how broad these dragnets can be to the discretion of people who have already shown they don’t mind overreaching the Fourth Amendment.”
The Freedom Act passed the House and now goes to the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he wants a full reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and the Freedom Act assumes that will happen. President Obama, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Hillary Clinton have all signaled their support for reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
The NSA cites Section 215 of the Patriot Act to defend their spying programs, but a federal judge recently said the NSA should stop this unlawful practice. Many advocates of civil liberties say the NSA’s activities are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that the government has no authority to collect our data and photos without a warrant.
Red Millennial’s Chief Policy Columnist Seth Connell slammed the Freedom Act and how it has been presented:
“The USA Freedom Act is nothing more than sophistry from both Republicans and Democrats. There is nothing about the Act that truly ends the surveillance state, or even scales it back in any meaningful way. ‘Specific selection term’ is licentiously ambiguous, and there is no way that the alphabet soup of federal agencies will start respecting the Fourth Amendment with such language.”
Connell also emphasized the need to respect the Bill of Rights.
“The term ‘effects’ is listed in the Fourth Amendment. One’s digital information is classified under one’s effects because that information on one’s device is exceptionally personal. Leaving such unprotected is a severe violation of essential civil liberties in the 21st century.”
When CIA agent Edward Snowden revealed that the American government is spying on its own citizens, without cause or warrants, both Congress and President pledged they would act to curb this practice. So far, nothing has happened to change the policy of the government collecting your phone records or your photos.