USA "Freedom" Act's non-reform

Writing at Just Security, Patrick Eddington of the CATO Institute explains why opponents of unconstitutional government surveillance should not support the USA Freedom Act and instead support the Surveillance State Repeal Act (HR 1466). Read the whole thing here with excerpts below:

My doubts about the bill’s likely effect are also based on the executive branch’s well-documented penchant for playing legal word games with surveillance law — a practice key supporters of this bill have complained about loudly and often. But even if we suspend disbelief and assume the more optimistic interpretations of the legislation’s effects come to pass, and that the executive branch will abide by the intent of the bill’s authors, how will that reform compare with what’s been revealed about the scope of NSA’s activities since 9/11?

The revelations about the abuses of the Patriot Act Sec. 215 metadata program are what ignited this surveillance reform debate. Yet even the current version of the USA Freedom Act would not end the executive branch’s authority to collect metadata; it would (assuming the best case scenario) simply narrow the scope of such metadata collection. It’s a curious course of action given the fact that Obama’s own Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology found that the metadata program prevented zero attacks on the United States. And as the New York Times recently reported, multiple government audits of this and other post-9/11 surveillance programs found them essentially useless in the fight against foreign terrorist organizations.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this debate — such as it is — is the refusal of the bill’s proponents to actually deal with the fact that these surveillance authorities should never have existed in the first place, that they have been repeatedly renewed despite false claims of their effectiveness and their dubious constitutionality, and that existing oversight mechanisms have failed to correct executive branch surveillance over-reach in multiple areas.

Consider what this bill is not addressing:

  • The “back door” searches conducted under Sec. 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
  • The expansive collection of U.S. Person data under Executive Order 12333.


Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF