Remember that old (but still in-use) Patriot Act? The one that allows so-called “security” agencies of the government to snoop everyone’s phone and Internet records for so-called “security” reasons? Well, a recent ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals declared that practice by the National Security Agency to be illegal – but that didn’t stop NSA from doing it.
A new USA Freedom Act, however, would do just that. And the president is pushing both sides of Congress to pass it quickly, the Washington Post reports on May 12, in order to restrict NSA from invading personal privacy.
It’s sort of a compromise. The Freedom Act would substantially limit the data NSA currently collects, meaning the agency would no longer be able to keep track of your phone records, snoop the grocery list you sent to your husband’s smartphone, or see your latest Facebook “likes.” If the new Act doesn’t get passed by June 1, though, NSA will no longer be able to acquire phone records of actual security threats, either.
This new USA Freedom Act, then, simply extends an intended security goal, but with much more precise definitions than those offered by the US Patriot Act, which got NSA started in this direction in the first place.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows NSA to collect “metadata” – phone records of numbers called, specific times, and length of conversations – from persons regarded to be national security threats, and without need for a court-issued warrant. NSA abused this practice, though, arguing that anyone could be such a threat, and has used this portion of the Patriot Act to collect not just metadata, but other personal information, and on practically all U.S. citizens.
And just what “security” has NSA been able to obtain through this program? Well, personal security, that’s for sure, and to accommodate personal insecurities of its staff. For example, NSA employees scoured the phone records of their spouses and girlfriends, the agency openly admitted to a congressional committee, even dubbing the practice “LOVEINT” (for “love intelligence”). Add in all the nudie pics they collected from private smartphone and online messages and openly shared around the office, and it’s pretty evident that the NSA has operated like a digital Club Med for computer geeks who can’t get laid. (I mean, take a good look at Edward “Wallflower” Snowden, ladies.)
This is the second attempt since last year to put a hold on the NSA. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) introduced the USA Freedom Act to their respective congressional houses in 2014, but House Republicans modified it, watering down the intended privacy protection, and even trying to extend the Patriot Act for three additional years. After Senate Republicans used what Leahy called “fear mongering,” the Freedom Act died.
Its modified reissuance this year is expected to be voted on by the House on May 13, and then move to Senate. Opposition there is expected, though, specifically from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) who instead wants to extend the Patriot Act as-is through 2020.
Image: Public Domain via Wikipedia (modified)