Thursday, May 21, 2015

USA FREEDOM Act does not end NSA spying

No, Congress did not just vote to end NSA spying | TheHill - Jeff Lyon & Danny Shaw:

May 21, 2015 -  "The USA Freedom Act is being hyped as a prohibition of the N.S.A.’s controversial mass surveillance practices, but it actually extends the PATRIOT Act for years and opens up new avenues for more invasive forms of government spying. Its passage into law would be more damaging to civil rights than if Congress did nothing at all. To understand why, it’s important to note that the N.S.A.’s practices were never lawful to begin with.

"Indeed, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the N.S.A.’s phone metadata surveillance program was never actually authorized by Congress. In a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, the N.S.A. sought to justify its dragnet surveillance practices by pointing to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which allows the government to collect records 'relevant to an authorized investigation.' But the court (and even Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the PATRIOT Act’s original author) rejected this argument, saying the law was never meant to authorize such wide-scale data collection.

"All of this should be a moot point, because Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act is set to expire on June 1 if Congress does nothing. But USA Freedom would extend this provision until 2019, and, crucially, it would tweak the language to allow the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs to continue, with only minor limitations....

"The bill expands the type of data the government [can] access from landline call data to VoIP calls, video chats and smartphone activity. The government will still be able to use broad search terms to target large portions of the population, and they can collect even more information from contacts “connected” to those targets. Companies that hand customer data over to the government will be rewarded with blanket immunity from lawsuits, even when they violate their own privacy agreements with customers. The N.S.A. will share information with the F.B.I., which can then use the information for investigations unrelated to counterterrorism. And the government can block the F.I.S.C. advocate from seeing anything they want to keep secret....

"What Congress says and what Congress does are two very different things. The USA Freedom Act is a perfect example — it took a stunning act of bipartisanship for so many lawmakers in the House to say that N.S.A. surveillance went too far. But what they did is pass a bill that would do little to change the status quo, while skillfully packaging it as a victory for American privacy. The U.S. public and news media should not be fooled so easily."

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