A few months ago (November 2019), the Democrat/Republican unibrow was frantically looking for a way to turn Trump’s dream of making NSA spying on Americans permanent before the provisions in the PATRIOT Act allowing them to do so expired.
But with the December 15 deadline for renewal fast approaching, and with a 2000-page omnibus loaded with spending priorities that broke nearly every promise Trump and the GOP made in 2016 being worked on in an attempt to avoid a government shutdown in December, the NSA spying can was kicked down the road for 90 days. The PATRIOT Act was temporarily renewed as a part of a stopgap funding measure to avoid the shutdown.
One of the expiring provisions is Section 215. This is the section where the NSA found its authority to acquire “business records” and other “tangible things” deemed “relevant” to fighting terrorism. It was under a very broad interpretation of Section 215 that the agency justified the abusive and unconstitutional spying brought to light by Edward Snowden in 2013.
With Section 215 set to expire under the new deadline (March 15, 2020), Trump, McConnell, and crew are once again facing a “crisis” of their own making — a crisis made worse because their goal of allowing no-holds-barred NSA spying on Americans permanent is still at the top of their liberty-killing list.
Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to have a meeting today with Senate Republicans to discuss, according to sources, the expiration of Section 215. “Reauthorization of these certain programs is a priority for both Leader McConnell and AG Barr,” said one source.
Other expiring provisions are “roving” wiretaps and other “Lone Wolf” surveillance authority. Under Section 206 of the PATRIOT Act, a roving wiretap allows the government to surveil a person without specifying the phone or computer.
The Lone Wolf provision isn’t part of the PATRIOT Act; you’ll find it in Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. This provision allows the government to obtain a warrant from the FISA Court to electronically monitor somebody without showing that the suspect is an agent of a foreign power or linked to terrorism.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee has put reauthorization of the USA FREEDOM Act on their agenda for tomorrow. This Act first became law in 2015 and was supposed to bring an end to bulk collection of metadata by the NSA used to rein in the FISA Court. The FREEDOM Act failed, the NSA kept spying, and the FISA Court kept its power.
As Congress puts the finishing touches on the script for the latest episode of “Safety over Liberty Theater,” Trump is playing reruns of “Witch Hunt Reality TV” in an effort to use the Mueller investigation as leverage to force reforms on FISA. As is always the case in Washington, “reform” is code for “change the law for government’s benefit.” Trump doesn’t want FISA to go away, he just wants his administration and the DOJ to have oversight.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to “protecting freedom where law and technology collide,” has set up a TAKE ACTION page where you can easily send letters to your representatives with the click of a mouse to let them know that you don’t want to see the USA PATRIOT Act re-authorized.
To quote Justin Amash, “Getting rid of this program will vindicate Americans’ rights and begin making the broader PATRIOT Act reforms that are going to be necessary to address the laws’ serious flaws.”
I hope you’ll do it! We need to TAKE ACTION while there’s still time.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative.