The current “gutted” version of the U.S.A. Freedom Act (S. 2685) will only serve to legalize government’s currently illegal surveillance of innocent civilians. A coalition of whistleblowers & civil liberties organizations published a letter calling on members of Congress to reject the empty reform.
“Governmental security agencies’ zeal for collecting Americans’ personal information without regard for cost, efficacy, legality, or public support necessitates that Congress act to protect the rights of residents across the United States and around the globe,” writes the group under the banner of the OffNow campaign. The letter is signed by a number of intelligence community whistleblowers, including Thomas Drake and Daniel Ellsburg, as well as over 15 publications and organizations, such as RootsAction.org, CREDO Action, Fight for the Future, Restore the Fourth and the Sunlight Foundation.
The U.S.A. Freedom Act, they charge, “is not the substantive reform originally envisioned and supported by the public” after it was introduced to both houses by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in October 2013. In late May, H.R 3361 passed the House of Representatives—after being heavily marked up by the House Judiciary subcommittee—and moved on to the Senate where it has languished in the Senate Judiciary subcommittee.
In its current form, the group says that the legislation now threatens to embolden the same violations it alleges to deter and has numerous ambiguities which make it “ripe for abuse.”
The Act, they write, “legalizes currently illegal surveillance activities, grants immunity to corporations that collaborate to violate privacy rights, reauthorizes the PATRIOT Act for an additional 2.5 years, and fails to reform EO 12333 or Section 702, other authorities used to collect large amounts of information on Americans.”
I am an original cosponsor of the Freedom Act, and I was involved in its drafting. At its best, the Freedom Act would have reined in the government’s unconstitutional domestic spying programs, ended the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ private records, and made the secret FISA court function more like a real court—with real arguments and real adversaries.
I was and am proud of the work our group, led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, did to promote this legislation, as originally drafted.
However, the revised bill that makes its way to the House floor this morning doesn’t look much like the Freedom Act.
This morning’s bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program.
It claims to end “bulk collection” of Americans’ data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.
But the bill was so weakened in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the last week that the government still can order—without probable cause—a telephone company to turn over all call records for “area code 616″ or for “phone calls made east of the Mississippi.” The bill green-lights the government’s massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans’ records in violation of the Fourth Amendment. – Honorable Justin Amash
SNIP to the end