Several provisions of “the Patriot Act” expired Monday June 1. Previously, government agencies had legal authority to collect and monitor phone records of nearly everyone in the country, without the need to provide justification or reason on an individual basis. Everyone’s info was up for grabs and under scrutiny in the government’s effort to combat terrorism.
Now that has changed, rather than businesses satisfying agency demands for “all tangible things” without cause for suspicion, new regulations for requests for information go through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and require specific search terms. Phone companies must maintain databases of their customer’s information themselves. The FBI and NSA no longer drag nets of their own, and everyone in government who fought for this change is patting themselves on the back.
Yes, imagine them – self-content bureaucrats are making history. They choose ridiculous titles for every act, as much to bloat their own egos as to inspire public confidence that the new laws accomplish what is claimed.
The USA Patriot act was crafted and enacted only weeks after 9/11 during a time of national mourning and pliability. It began as House Bill 3162 on Oct. 23 2001, passed to congress the next day and was published as Public Law 107-56 on Oct. 25 with the short title “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001.”
The USA FREEDOM act is another goofy acronym in the vein of the USA Patriot act, standing for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act.” This came highly recommended by the Obama administration and was originally introduced in 2013.
The Freedom act serves simply “to reform the authorities of the federal government” in their ongoing surveillance efforts. It is not an end to the provisions set forth in the Patriot Act, but rather an extension and modification of them. The passage of the Freedom Act on Tuesday June 2, reinstated several provisions from the Patriot act the day after their expiration.
Section 102 of the Freedom Act amends section 501 of the Patriot Act, to allow the Attorney General the ability to demand “tangible things,” prior to court authorization, in the event of an emergency. No information gleamed from such productions may be presented in court prior to an eventual authorization, unless the attorney general again believes there is an emergency situation or a threat to someone’s life. Essentially the powers which the NSA and FBI had at their disposal still exist, but at the discretion of a single man.
Moreover the attorney general is a member of the president’s cabinet, meaning the power to demand any and all information now rests squarely in the executive branch of the government. Whether or not that is a bad thing is a matter of opinion, and with elections upcoming the full impact of this decision is certainly yet to be seen.
There’s a lot to be said of the Freedom Act, it lost support in congress in some cases due to being too weak, but was rushed through on behest of the president so as to avoid further delays in light of the expiration of the Patriot Act.
The infrastructure and legal precedence for much of what Snowden revealed years ago has been maimed, but those in Washington are split between further kicking such programs while they’re down, and rushing them to the hospital. The Freedom Act is yet to be codified, and it’s likely there are plenty of amendments forthcoming, but it’s a small step in the right direction.