Privacy v. Surveillance.

Last week the House passed a bill called the USA Freedom Act which would curb a lot of the NSA’s power to spy on Americans. The Senate was supposed to vote on the bill by midnight May 31 or key provisions of the Patriot Act would expire. As of June 1 the Senate did not vote on the bill. It expired partly because presidential candidate and Senator Rand Paul blocked the bill, wanting the Patriot Act provisions to expire.

The Patriot Act:

The Background

The Patriot Act was passed in October 2001 just after the 9/11 attacks. It gave the government broad new authority to surveil foreign and domestic targets in the hope that in the future we would be able to better thwart terrorist attacks on our soil.

But in order to protect against surveillance abuses, the Patriot Act was set to expire just five years later. After 9/11 a law was passed called the Patriot Act which gave a ton of power to the government to conduct surveillance and operations all for the purpose of thwarting further terrorist attacks. Which is great, because we don’t want terrorist attacks.

The problem is that many believe that power is being abused because it’s being used to spy on innocent American citizens.

For years the Patriot Act has been extended and reauthorized with barely a peep. That was before the public was made aware what the government’s capabilities actually were. And that awareness happened in 2013 when Edward Snowden, a former NSA employee, came forward and leaked thousands of documents about what the NSA was actually doing. It was one of the biggest government leaks in U.S. history.

What Is Section 215?

Section 215 of the Patriot Act is what actually gives the NSA authority to run its data surveillance program. It allows the government to require businesses to hand over records of “any tangible things” including books, records, paper, documents and other items. Yeah, we know, “any tangible things” is vague AF and that’s on purpose.

What happened was a secret surveillance court called the FISA Court interpreted Section 215 to mean that the NSA can collect and store phone records for every American, the vast majority of whom have no connection to terrorism.

Section 215 is set to expire on June 1 and so this is the reason why the House passed the USA Freedom Act. It extends and reauthorizes Section 215 for two more years but amends it so that the NSA’s abilities to collect tons of data on innocent Americans is restricted.

The Court Ruling

Last week a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that the Patriot Act didn’t actually authorize the bulk collection of telephone records. They basically squashed the previous FISA court ruling that the Patriot Act totally meant that the NSA could collect everyone’s phone records.

The USA Freedom Act

The USA Freedom Act is a bill that just passed the House on Wednesday. It reauthorizes and extends section 215 of the Patriot Act but puts more restrictions on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) ability to collect data on Americans.

If the bill passes the Senate, then the NSA won’t be able to collect mountains of data from telecom companies without a warrant like it can now. Instead, the NSA will have to demonstrate more clearly what data they need and why they need it.

The bill has a ton of support from both Democrats and Republicans (it was passed on a 338–88 vote) as well as big tech companies like Google and Facebook.

Some of the Cons

Defense hawks in the Senate are opposed to curbing the power of the NSA and this program. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the bill is dangerous because it limits access to intelligence about future terrorist attacks. He said he’s not going to allow a vote on the measure, and he’s the guy who controls whether to allow a bill on the floor of the senate. So unless he can be persuaded, it doesn’t look like this bill is going to pass the Senate aka it’s not going to become a law.

Even some of the bill’s supporters admit that the USA Freedom Act has some problems, but for them the problems are that it doesn’t gofar enough to limit government surveillance. It still allows the NSA to retain data and information collected on Americans who turn out to have done nothing wrong.

The Candidates Takes.

Ted Cruz.

Cruz believes that Congress should immediately pass the USA Freedom Act. “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.”

Marco Rubio.

Rubio wrote an op-ed in USA Today about why we shouldn’t end the NSA’s data program. “Because of the dedicated work of U.S. intelligence, military and law enforcement personnel, Americans have been largely kept safe for almost 14 years. A major contributor to this success has been the development and use of counterterrorism tools such as those authorized under theForeign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Patriot Act.”

Hillary Clinton.

Supports passing the USA Freedom Act. She tweeted “Congress should move ahead now with the USA Freedom Act — a good step forward in ongoing efforts to protect our security & civil liberties.”

Bernie Sanders.

Bernie is publicly against the re-authorization of the current Patriot Act but hasn’t said a lot on how he would vote on the USA Freedom Act.

Rand Paul.

Not only does Paul want the NSA’s collection of bulk data to stop, but he wants the entire law underpinning the NSA’s program, the Patriot Act, to expire. So he has said that he won’t vote for the USA Freedom Act because he doesn’t think it goes far enough, he doesn’t want to amend the Patriot Act he wants to get rid of it altogether.

Ben Carson.

Carson hasn’t explicitly said whether he’s for the USA Freedom Act and what his view on the Patriot Act is. In 2013 he said on Fox News:

“It is absolutely important that we know what’s being done and what’s being monitored. The secrecy that’s going on right now, coupled with the apparent dishonesty in government, has obviously dampened the enthusiasm for people about the veracity of their government.”

Carly Fiorina.

Fiorina hasn’t weighed in on what she thinks about NSA surveillance and the Patriot Act.