WASHINGTON, November 30, 2015– When the clock struck 12:00 AM on Thanksgiving weekend’s Sunday morning, the National Security Agency (NSA) was forced to end virtually all metadata collection of phone calls made in the United States. Key word: virtually.
In June, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which was signed by President Obama. The legislation vested the responsibility of data collection and storage with telecom companies, rather than a government agency.
Still, on both sides of the issue, some remain skeptics of the USA Freedom Act.
Judge Andrew Napolitano says nothing substantial has changed and that claims made by politicians that a ‘court order’ is needed under the USA Freedom Act, whereas one was not previously required, are misleading.
“When politicians tell you that the NSA needs a court order in order to listen to your phone calls or read your emails, they are talking about a FISA court order that is based on government need- not a constitutional court order, which can only be based on probable cause,” said Napolitano. “This is an insidious and unconstitutional bait and switch.”
However, even the most minuscule changes within the USA Freedom Act were enough for United States Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to fight against until the very last moments. The two attempted to use the Paris terror attacks as warrant for extending and strengthening the current NSA spy program.
Meanwhile, United States Congressman Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was an original co-sponsor of the legislation, but backed out of supporting the bill and actually voted against the final version because it was stripped down and “looked little like the original bill” he had worked to draft and lobby for.
Amash posted a lengthy explanation on Facebook in May:
“I am an original cosponsor of the Freedom Act, and I was involved in its drafting. At its best, the Freedom Act would have reined in the government’s unconstitutional domestic spying programs, ended the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ private records, and made the secret FISA court function more like a real court—with real arguments and real adversaries.
I was and am proud of the work our group, led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, did to promote this legislation, as originally drafted.
However, the revised bill that makes its way to the House floor this morning doesn’t look much like the Freedom Act.
This morning’s bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program. It claims to end “bulk collection” of Americans’ data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.
But the bill was so weakened in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the last week that the government still can order—without probable cause—a telephone company to turn over all call records for “area code 616” or for “phone calls made east of the Mississippi.” The bill green-lights the government’s massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans’ records in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The bill does include a few modest improvements to current law. The secret FISA court that approves government surveillance must publish its most significant opinions so that Americans can have some idea of what surveillance the government is doing. The bill authorizes (but does not require) the FISA court to appoint lawyers to argue for Americans’ privacy rights, whereas the court now only hears from one side before ruling.
But while the original version of the Freedom Act allowed Sec. 215 of the Patriot Act to expire in June 2015, this morning’s bill extends the life of that controversial section for more than two years, through 2017.
I thank Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte for pursuing surveillance reform. I respect Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Rep. John Conyers for their work on this issue.
It’s shameful that the president of the United States, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the leaders of the country’s surveillance agencies refuse to accept consensus reforms that will keep our country safe while upholding the Constitution. And it mocks our system of government that they worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors.
The American people demand that the Constitution be respected, that our rights and liberties be secured, and that the government stay out of our private lives. Fortunately, there is a growing group of representatives on both sides of the aisle who get it. In the 10 months since I proposed the Amash Amendment to end mass surveillance, we’ve made big gains.
We will succeed.”