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Both Parties Unite In Move To Amend Patriot Act

This is the strongest demonstration yet of a decade-long shift from a singular focus on national security at the expense of civil liberties to a new balance in the post-Snowden era.

The New York Times today has a story about the move to limit government surveillance in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. But there's a not-insignificant catch, as Marcy Wheeler points out:

WASHINGTON — After more than a decade of wrenching national debate over the intrusiveness of government intelligence agencies, a bipartisan wave of support has gathered to sharply limit the federal government’s sweeps of phone and Internet records.On Thursday, a bill that would overhaul the Patriot Act and curtail the so-called metadata surveillance exposed by Edward J. Snowden was overwhelmingly passed by the House Judiciary Committee and was heading to almost certain passage in that chamber this month.

An identical bill in the Senate — introduced with the support of five Republicans — is gaining support over the objection of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who is facing the prospect of his first policy defeat since ascending this year to majority leader.

The push for reform is the strongest demonstration yet of a decade-long shift from a singular focus on national security at the expense of civil liberties to a new balance in the post-Snowden era.

Under the bipartisan bills in the House and Senate, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection, and sweeps that had operated under the guise of so-called National Security Letters issued by the F.B.I. would end. The data would instead be stored by the phone companies themselves, and could be accessed by intelligence agencies only after approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

The legislation would also create a panel of experts to advise the FISA court on privacy, civil liberties, and technology matters, while requiring the declassification of all significant FISA court opinions.The debate has resulted in a highly unusual alliance of House Speaker John A. Boehner, the White House, the Tea Party and a bipartisan majority in the House. They are in opposition to Mr. McConnell, his Intelligence Committee chairman, and a small group of defense hawks. In addition, two Republican presidential candidates in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have made it clear they will not accept a straight extension of the current Patriot Act.


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Meanwhile, Marcy Wheeler notes:

John Conyers, Jim Sensenbrenner, Darrell Issa, Steve Cohen, Jerry Nadler, Sheila Jackson Lee, Trey Gowdy, John Ratcliffe, Bob Goodlatte all voted to postpone the Fourth Amendment today.

At issue was Ted Poe’s amendment to the USA Freedom Act (USA F-ReDux; see the debate starting around 1:15), which prohibited warrantless back door searches and requiring companies from inserting technical back doors.

One after another House Judiciary Committee member claimed to support the amendment and, it seems, agreed that back door searches violate the Fourth Amendment. Though the claims of support from John Ratcliffe, who confessed to using back door searches as a US Attorney, and Bob Goodlatte, who voted against the Massie-Lofgren amendment last year, are suspect. But all of them claimed they needed to vote against the amendment to ensure the USA Freedom Act itself passed.

That judgment may or may not be correct, but it’s a fairly remarkable claim. Not because — in the case of people like Jerry Nader and John Conyers — there’s any question about their support for the Fourth Amendment. But because the committee in charge of guarding the Constitution could not do so because the Intelligence Committee had the sway to override their influence. That was a point made, at length, by both Jim Jordan and Ted Poe, with the latter introducing the point that those in support of the amendment but voting against it had basically agreed to postpone the Fourth Amendment until Section 702 reauthorization in 2017.

[...] The committee purportedly overseeing the Intelligence Community and ensuring it doesn’t violate the Constitution has instead dictated to the committee that guards the Constitution it won’t be permitted to do its job.

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