Why USA “Freedom” Act is Not a Win for Civil Liberties

At midnight on Sunday, section 215 of the PATRIOT Act expired because activists like you fought back and forced a showdown in the Senate over unconstitutional spying on Americans.1 And for a moment, one of the government’s worst domestic surveillance authorities lapsed. This was a battle won for our movement.

Then yesterday, less than 48 hours later, the Senate undid everything. Senators voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize unconstitutional spying creating sweeping new authorities for the government to conduct unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans by passing the USA FREEDOM Act.2 That reauthorization, via passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, is not something we call a victory. …

At best, the current version of the bill will place some restrictions on the bulk collection of telephone records, curtailing somewhat the use of a handful of the government’s many surveillance authorities. It by no means will end mass, suspicionless spying on Americans, though it could reduce somewhat the number of Americans impacted by certain surveillance programs at any given time. The NSA may have to collect merely huge numbers of records about large numbers of Americans – instead of nearly all domestic telephone records. The bill also makes some reforms to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – which may be a little more transparent under this bill.

At CREDO, we don’t believe that these relatively superficial changes, some of which may hamper the NSA’s suspicionless spying somewhat but won’t end mass surveillance, are worth reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act, nor are we confident that the government will interpret the law in the same way as reformers – after all, agencies like the NSA and FBI have an egregious track record of ignoring or distorting laws they find inconvenient. The USA FREEDOM Act is far worse than simply allowing section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to expire. …

What we got with the USA FREEDOM Act was dangerous fake-reform. Now we can go two ways. We can let Congress off the hook, fall for the line that they’ve actually done something and let the Obama White House continue it’s massive spying operation. Or we can fight back and build on our victory getting section 215 to sunset, if only for a couple of days.

The public proved it was well ahead of the politicians, strongly opposes mass surveillance and supports ending PATRIOT Act abuses. This fight demonstrates that the public can win battles in Congress that just a few years ago we were barely able to fight at all. We’re showing the world that standing strong can win big things, and that the more support we have for going big, the more we can win in the fights that are to come. …

Some members of Congress responded, and fought powerfully to end mass surveillance. In the Senate, Rand Paul led the opposition to the USA FREEDOM Act with a game-changing filibuster that helped force a temporary sunset of the PATRIOT Act.7 In the House, champions like Reps. Mark Pocan, Barbara Lee, Mark Takano, Thomas Massie, Justin Amash, and Ted Poe led the charge to rein in the surveillance state.

But sadly, most Democrats in both the House and Senate failed to show the same commitment to our civil liberties as Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul, and Reps. Massie, Amash and Poe and Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan and Barbara Lee. The overwhelming majority of Democrats ultimately voted in favor of more mass surveillance. Even more disappointing, President Obama is competing with George W. Bush in using fear mongering to champion making PATRIOT Act powers permanent. …

While we see passage of the USA FREEDOM Act as a temporary setback, we will have other opportunities to fight to restore our civil liberties – and we’re better positioned than ever to win.

Coming up, we’ll have opportunities to support strong reform legislation that civil libertarians in Congress will try to attach to appropriations bills and other must-pass legislation, and to speak out in support of stand alone reform bills like Reps. Mark Pocan and Thomas Massie’s Surveillance State Repeal Act.

We also believe that too often in D.C. personnel is policy. So we will continue to call for the ouster of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who perjured himself in Congress lying through his teeth about the existence of the bulk surveillance program later exposed by Edward Snowden. And we’ll follow the money, working to defund the agencies and federal contractors who want to keep these unconstitutional programs with no track record of success because they yield rapacious profits underwritten by taxpayers like you and me.

We’ll be in touch soon about all of that soon. But for now, thank you for your activism. The only thing protecting our civil liberties is organized resistance to power grabs by our rogue surveillance agencies – in other words, you.


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UK Blackmailed, Protected Elite Pedophiles at Belfast Boys Home

The British security service shielded and blackmailed child sex abusers involved in a paedophile ring at a notorious Belfast care home, the High Court heard on Monday.

Counsel for one victim claimed new evidence of the extent of state collusion and cover-up in the Kincora scandal must now be examined by a wider Westminster inquiry.

Gary Hoy is seeking to judicially review the decision to keep the investigation within the remit of a Stormont-commissioned body.

But opening his challenge, Ashley Underwood QC argued the ongoing Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry sitting in Banbridge, Co Down lacks the power to properly scrutinise the “appalling, systematic abuse” Mr Hoy suffered at Kincora Boys Home.

He said: “There’s now substantial evidence that the Security Service were condoning that, they knew of it and made use of it so as to blackmail the abusers and prevent some of the abusers being brought to book at the time.”

Senior politicians, businessmen and high-level British state agents are alleged to have connived in the molestation and prostitution of vulnerable youngsters throughout the 1970s. …