Friday, May 29, 2015

On Patriot Act Renewal and USA Freedom Act

-Glenn Greenwald
Even in the security-über alles climate that followed 9/11, the Patriot Act was recognized as an extreme and radical expansion of government surveillance powers. That’s why “sunset provisions” were attached to several of its key provisions: meaning they would expire automatically unless Congress renewed them every five years. But in 2005 and then again in 2010, the Bush and Obama administrations demanded their renewal, and Congress overwhelmingly complied with only token opposition from civil libertarians.

That has all changed in the post-Snowden era. The most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act are scheduled to “sunset” on June 1, and there is almost no chance for a straight-up, reform-free authorization. The Obama White House has endorsed the so-called “reform” bill called the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House by an overwhelming majority. Yet the bill fell three votes short in the Senate last week, rendering it very unclear what will happen as the deadline rapidly approaches.

Unlike many privacy and civil liberties groups, the ACLU has refrained from endorsing the USA Freedom Act and instead is advocating for allowing the Patriot Act provisions to sunset — i.e., to die a long overdue death rather than being “reformed.” Meanwhile, almost all of the 86 “no” votes in the House were based on the argument that the USA Freedom Act either does not go far enough in limiting the NSA or that it actually makes things worse.

I spoke yesterday with the ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director, Jameel Jaffer, about what is likely going to happen as the June 1 deadline approaches, whether the USA Freedom Act is a net positive for privacy supporters, and what all of this reform means for Edward Snowden’s status. The discussion is roughly 20 minutes and can be heard on the player below; a transcript is also provided.


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