Today, the Senate passed The “Freedom” Act (another Orwellian name) that “reforms” government spying; that’s what you’ll hear on the radio and the cable tv shows. But the reality is it’s only superficial.
So there’s still a great deal of surveillance that sucks up Americans. And importantly, a lot of what expired last night doesn’t really expire. The phone dragnet does because the order for it also expired last night. But the majority of Section 215 orders are actually for internet content, and those deadlines probably didn’t come up last night, they’ll be grandfathered in. So that’s fine, we’ll continue to go on. The roving wiretaps. Anybody who’s on a roving wiretap right now on a FISA order, that’s going to continue to go on. So in point of fact, most of what quote-unquote expired last night continues today. It’s just the phone dragnet that got shut down.
The USA Freedom Act supposedly bans bulk collection of phone records or any other private records, and we certainly hope it actually does. But its provisions are vague and confusing, leading many legal experts to believe they could be re-interpreted in secret—by NSA lawyers with a history of warping the common definitions of ordinary wordsbeyond recognition—and could lead the FISA court to continue to allow the NSA to collect large quantities of Americans’ data in secret. (The administration will shamefully now re-start the phone program that expired on Monday for six months, as allowed under the new law’s “transition” period.)
The ultra-secret FISA court, a Kafkaesque nightmare for civil liberties, also gets to keep many of its worst features, with just minor changes around the edges. Such an anathema to democracy should be dismantled entirely.
The USA Freedom Act also does not touch on two of the NSA’s most powerful and controversial tools: the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333, which have been used to scan untold billions of emails coming in and out of the United States, and give the agency free rein to spy on 95% of the world’s population with virtually no restrictions.
And perhaps most shamefully, given that Congress never would’ve even had this debate without Edward Snowden, the bill does nothing for whistleblowers who can be prosecuted as spies under the Espionage Act for speaking to journalists and telling the American public the truth.
NSA Whistleblowers Oppose Freedom Act, Endorse Long-Shot Bill
Ex-officials say the ‘Free-dumb Act’ wouldn’t change much.
Former NSA crypto-mathematician William Binney, who worked three decades at the agency, says the Freedom Act – widely seen as having the best chance of any surveillance-limiting proposal – “won’t do anything” if it passes.
“Why do you think NSA [and other intelligence agencies] support it?” he says.
Binney says the bill’s limitation of two “hops” on records the government could require companies to produce – meaning records of a target’s communications and records of communications made by the target’s contacts – can yield billions of people’s records.
Binney, who left the agency in 2001 and – alongside fellow whistleblowers Kirk Wiebe and Thomas Drake – sought to raise alarms about wasteful spending through official channels before later alerting the public to privacy intrusions, plans to lobby members of Congress to take more drastic action.
Drake, a former NSA senior executive prosecuted unsuccessfully under the Espionage Act before pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in 2011, calls the bill the “Free-dumb Act 2.0,” and says he sees it as a ploy by government officials “to keep the status quo in place.”