As the deadline to extend sections of the Patriot Act purporting to authorize bulk surveillance looms and the Senate continues to wrangle over NSA spying, it seems increasingly likely we will see some type of reform in the next week.
But even under the best case scenario, the NSA will go right on spying.
True, whether the Patriot Act provisions simply expire, or the Senate passes the USA Freedom Act, it will mean changes to how the NSA operates its bulk spying program. But no matter what happens, and how good it seems on the surface, keep one very important thing in mind.
NSA spying will not end.
Edward Snowden said as much during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session.
“There are always reasons to be concerned that regardless of the laws passed, some agencies in government (FBI, NSA, CIA, and DEA, for example, have flouted laws in the past) will miscontrue the intent of Congress in passing limiting laws—or simply disregard them totally. For example, the DOJ’s internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report claiming, among other abuses, that it could simply refuse to tell government oversight bodies what exactly it was doing, so the legality or illegality of their operations simply couldn’t be questioned at all.”
In fact, even if Section 215 of the Patriot Act sunsets, bulk surveillance will likely continue under those very provisions due to legal loopholes. A judicial order penned by Judge James Boasberg opens the door for the president to continue bulk phone surveillance.
If Congress, conversely, has not enacted legislation amending [Section 215] or extending its sunset date, the government is directed to provide a legal memorandum pursuant to rule 11(d) addressing the power of the Court to grant such authority beyond June 1, 2015. Given this option, it seems almost certain the government would push to continue spying.
The USA Freedom Act represents a partial fix at best. It leaves open a loophole that allows backdoor searches of American’s information and as Snowden pointed out, it seems almost a certainty that the NSA will construe whatever act Congress passes to allow it to do what it wants.
And of course, much of the NSA spying occurs under other “authorizations,” including EO 12333.
The cold hard fact is that even under the best case scenario, spying will continue after June 1.
I perceive a great danger should Section 215 or the Patriot Act Expire or the USA Freedom Act pass. Many Americans will assume Congress solved the problem. Congress will tell you it solved the problem. But we’ll still have the problem.
Regardless of what happens over the weekend, we must continue battling to protect privacy. We cannot trust the federal government to limit itself.
It never has.
It never will.
It’s not just about a single program or one bad law. Americans face an ever-growing surveillance state, intentional in its creation. We can’t just tinker around the edges and expect to maintain our privacy. Anthony Gregory captured the truth perfectly in a recent column at the Independent Institute, writing,. “We don’t need reform, we need to tear the whole thing down.”
Gregory makes a compelling case.
The goal has been the same for over a decade: Total Information Awareness. The government seeks to have all the data it can possibly get, and keep tabs on every documented detail in your life. They will share this data with law enforcement agencies that have nothing to do with terrorism, which is itself a minuscule threat compared to what America faced during the Cold War.
The only way to stop this is a nationwide movement to restore the Fourth Amendment completely. No more warrantless searches—for any reason: drugs, guns, taxes, money laundering or terrorism. This system cannot be reformed, because the system, from top to bottom, is all aimed at abolishing every last bit of personal privacy.
No matter what happens in Congress, OffNow will continue to fight for privacy. We don’t trust Congress to do it. We don’t trust the president to do it. We don’t trust the federal courts to do it. That’s why we choose to focus the bulk of our efforts at the state and local level. We use power to counter power.