Cover image from pplware.com
When all of the court cases, competing bills, and machinations by leadership in Congress gets sorted out, the looming expiration of the Patriot Act on May 31 is bound to create some massive fireworks on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday the Second Circuit Court handed down a decision in ACLU v. Clapper in which the court ruled that as it is/was currently being executed, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the National Security Agency’s telephone metadata collection program violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution itself. This has produced bi-partisan jubilation from those who have said that the NSA’s program is an overreach all along, and furor from some of the old guard who are hell bent on somehow making it legal:
“The dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records is unnecessary and ineffective, and now a federal appellate court has found that the program is illegal,” said a joint statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, after the decision was announced. “Congress should not reauthorize a bulk collection program that the court has found to violate the law. We will not consent to any extension of this program.”….
“Today’s federal appeals court ruling confirms what we’ve been saying all along: bulk collection of data is not authorized under the law and is not accepted by the American people,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the committee’s ranking member, John Conyers, D-Mich., and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in a statement. “It also reaffirms that a straight reauthorization of the bulk collection program is not a choice for Congress.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was disappointed by the court’s ruling.
“We were reminded again in Texas this week that the dark forces of radical Islamic extremism remain determined to carry out attacks against our nation,” he said, referring to Sunday’s attack by two gunmen outside a Dallas-area exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad. “We must do everything in our power to stop these attacks before they happen. To do so, we must make sure that our intelligence agencies have the necessary tools in their toolbox to get the job done.”
Sen. McCain does not seem to have heard the news that the Dallas terrorists were messaging via Twitter for all the world to see. The metadata collection method of gaining intelligence is only useful if the terrorists play along. Since they found out what is being monitored thanks to a certain former federal contractor’s arguable treason, they’ve moved on. (Intelligence needs to catch up.)
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled debate on the Patriot Act itself from the Senate floor. It is his contention that the NSA’s program should be continued as it is, and the Patriot Act renewed until 2020. At this point, that would take rewriting Section 215 per the Second Circuit Court’s opinion. Any retention of the program as it stands has broad bi-partisan opposition – and a viable alternative making its way through the House of Representatives.
McConnell took to the Senate floor after the court ruling to decry the alternative to the Patriot Act, the bicameral USA Freedom Act passed last week by the House Judiciary Committee and due on the House Floor for a vote next week, which in his words would “replace Section 215 with an untested, untried and more cumbersome system. It would not end bulk collection of call data. Instead, it would have untrained corporate (phone company) employees with uncertain supervision and protocols do the collecting.” Of course, this reflects McConnell not being part of the group that wants the Patriot Act to die and to put something else in its place.
Passing a law that looks like the USA Freedom Act would mean that the government would actually have to go to court to execute warrants, not rely on a top secret court that we only know exists because Edward Snowden leaked a whole lot of top secret information to a British newspaper. There are those who think that this will take too long to prevent terrorist attacks, but the reality is that the private sector can move a lot faster than the government can, and having the metadata stored with the actual platform companies might actually work better.
Confused? So are a lot of people. The main issue is fining a way to balance justified snooping to prevent terrorist attacks against American guaranteed rights of free speech, and privacy, all while working with an administration that likes to ignore the law and having some sort of sunset time frame that may or may not be the end of any War on Terror activity. Talk about a sticky wicket. To top it off, it seems McConnell and Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-OH) are on opposite sides of the fence.
The [USA Freedom Act] is expected to easily pass the House, with the support of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said: “It’s not everything that I want, but I think it’s a solid agreement.”
All freedom wonks get the popcorn. This is going to get good. For more on who is on which side, visit FoxNews.