Buried in an Overloaded and Terrible News Cycle: The House of Representatives Just Voted to Expand the PATRIOT Act.

On Wednesday, when most people were (understandably) consumed by news about any one of a catalog of terrible things happening right now, the House of Representatives was busy voting to expand the PATRIOT Act.

Although combating international trafficking in persons is a laudable and important goal, the Empowering Financial Institutions to Fight Human Trafficking Act (HR 6279) increases the reach and reduces the accountability of the US surveillance state.

The bill creates a new structure for nonprofits to report “suspicious” activity related to human trafficking to banks, but clears them of liability for reporting information they know to be false or motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious animus or personal, political, or financial gain. This would lead to an increase in the number of Suspicious Activity Reports filed by banks, but no process for individuals to defend themselves if they have been wrongly accused. Even worse, it gives the Treasury Department the authority to create new regulations to expand warrantless surveillance under Section 314 of the PATRIOT Act for any suspected unlawful activities, not just human trafficking.

The ACLU, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Color Of Change, Defending Rights & Dissent, Demand Progress Action, Free Press Action, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Government Information Watch, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Project On Government Oversight, and X-Lab outlined the problems in the bill in a letter to Congress. They concluded,

This legislation goes far beyond the goal of combating human trafficking and significantly expands governmental surveillance, the impact of which falls most heavily and relentlessly on those who are the least able to defend themselves. Now is not the time to rush this legislation, introduced a mere two weeks ago, through a legislative procedure intended for uncontroversial bills.

Nonetheless, it passed 297 to 124, clearing the 2/3 threshold it would have needed to pass under suspension by 16 votes.

Republicans voted 202 to 29 in favor of the bill. Democrats split evenly: 95 in favor and 95 against.

Here are the 95 Democratic NO votes:

Notice how House Democratic Leadership voted (but did not whip) against the bill.

Notably, FreedomWorks also opposed the bill, inspiring opposition from the right wing of the Republican caucus.

Here are the 29 Republican NOs: