Update on the status of the USA Patriot Act

Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept interviewed the ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director, Jameel Jaffer about the maneuvering behind the USA Patriot Act whose provisions under section 215 will expire because of sunset provisions on June 1 unless Congress acts to pass something. The House has passed something known as the USA Freedom Act that revised some key provisions of section but that failed to pass in the Senate.

The interview lays out very clearly what the various options are and what they will achieve.

Jaffer is of the opinion that while the USA Freedom Act is an improvement on what currently exists, he would prefer that the section 215 provisions lapse altogether.

The USA Freedom Act would make some important improvements to the law. For example, it would end the bulk collection of call records. It would also limit the government’s ability to collect other kinds of records in bulk. It would impose some new transparency requirements. It would also create a new amicus provision – a kind of “friend of the court” provision – for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so those are all very important things. But they are limited things. And we think the scheduled expiry of these provisions presents Congress with a unique opportunity to enact broader reform.

We would like to see the USA Freedom Act strengthened in some respects. I mentioned that it would end the call records program. It wouldn’t prevent the large-scale collection of other kinds of records. And while it has transparency provisions, it exempts some key information from those transparency requirements.

For example, the FBI’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments of 2008 to conduct what some people are calling backdoor searches of some Americans’ electronic communications. I should explain: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was enacted in 1978, but there were these big amendments in 2008 that essentially allowed the government to collect Americans’ international communications in bulk – large volumes of Americans’ international communications. And what happens is that the FBI then goes into this database that houses all of those communications – millions and millions of communications – and searches through them using identifiers associated with US persons. In other words, an American’s name, or email address, or phone number. It searches through the database for communications associated with those identifiers. And it does all of that without a warrant.

So some members of Congress, Senator Wyden in particular, have been trying to convince Congress to prohibit that practice, to ensure that the government gets a warrant before reviewing Americans’ electronic communications. But the USA Freedom Act doesn’t do that. So we would like to see the USA Freedom Act amended to include that kind of fix.

Jaffer says that we would not even be having this debate were it not for what Edward Snowden did. When this is coupled with a unanimous verdict from a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that “the NSA’s collection of information about billions of phone calls made or received by Americans was not allowed under an anti-terrorism law passed by Congress”, this is a clear vindication of what Snowden did.

In a separate article, Greenwald describes the hysterical fearmongering being carried out by the Obama administration in its efforts to prevent section 215 from being sunseted, using the time-tested method of getting friendly reporters in venues like the New York Times to uncritically pass on statements by anonymous officials that we are all going to die unless we do what they say we must do.

It’s just government propaganda masquerading as a news article, where anonymous officials warn the country that they will die if the Patriot Act isn’t renewed immediately, while decreeing that Congressional critics of the law will have blood on their hands due to their refusal to obey. In other words, it’s a perfect museum exhibit for how government officials in both parties and American media outlets have collaborated for 15 years to enact one radical measure after the next and destroy any chance for rational discourse about it.

I have learned to be very suspicious of any legislation whose name is not simply descriptive of its contents but is meant to evoke high-sounding sentiments, because these are classic Orwellian techniques “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

If you hear of any legislation called The Restoration of Motherhood and Apple Pie Act then you can be certain that it is utterly noxious.


  1. says

    So the question remains: Who is Obama beholden to per the NSA? It STILL makes no sense to me…He’s SOMEBODY’S puppet on this. I just don’t know whose….

  2. dannorth says

    “If you hear of any legislation called The Restoration of Motherhood and Apple Pie Act then you can be certain that it is utterly noxious.”

    Even before getting to this part I wanted to ask if you knew when this habit of using grandiloquent names appeared.

    I don’t recall if it started in naming military operations like “Restore Hope” and “Enduring Freedom” or with bills like the Patriot act but it seems to date from the late 90’s early 00’s

  3. says

    It is quite clear the FBI, NSA, and CIA are going to do whatever the fuck they want to do, no matter what attempts are made to rein them in. And those attempts are going to be window-dressing anyhow. The “total information awareness” programs that were ‘killed’ under Clinton are the “Prism” system Snowden and Klein described — a system which was illegal when it was being built — with window-dressing fig-leaf courtesy of 9/11. But it was going to be built, always, and was built. The only thing that will happen as a result of any legislative attempts to rein these programs in is that it’ll get renamed and the “Intelligence oversight committee” will be told blandly there “is no such program by that name any more.” That’s how it’s been done all along.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *