The main reform is the end of the bulk collection of metadata under Section 215, which has been ruled illegal in multiple courts since Edward Snowden fully disclosed its existence two years ago. In its place will be a system where telecoms archive their data and NSA can only pull metadata after going through the FISA Court that will have a privacy advocate overseeing the proceedings. Although there’s a provision that could allow for a six month “transition period” to this new protocol.
In looking at these changes, Bill Scher argues that civil libertarians lost:
In an interview with Democracy Now just before passage, Edward Snowden confidant Glenn Greenwald triumphantly declared “the only reason why the Patriot Act is going to be reformed is because one person was courageous enough, in an act of conscience, to come forward.” But minutes later, Greenwald conceded that “it leaves overwhelmingly undisturbed the vast bulk of what the NSA does, and it’s very unlikely that there will be another reform bill, which means that the NSA’s core mission and core activities will remain unreformed and unchanged.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposed the USA Freedom Act as too tough on the NSA, thundered on the floor before the vote that the bill amounted to a “resounding victory for Edward Snowden.” But the civil libertarian two-stepping exposes the truth: Snowden lost.
As one former intelligence official told the Daily Beast, “What no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing-burger for the privacy community.” Turns out one of the main reform planks – having telecommunications companies instead of the NSA collect personal metadata in bulk – is a logistical efficiency, not a restraint on surveillance. “It’s very expensive and very cumbersome,” said the official. “Good! Let them take them. I’m tired of holding on to this,” said another.
What this reminds me of is the debate in the wake of Obamacare’s passage. In many ways, Obamacare fell way short of the ideal health care legislation. Obama conceded significant reforms in order to get something passed, making deals that left significant inefficiencies and profiteering in the health care industry intact.
But the passage of Obamacare was a victory in some real ways. It was a baby step in the right direction and it put to rest the idea that health care reform of any kind was impossible. The passage of the USA Freedom Act is a victory in the same way. It changes the longstanding dynamic towards giving government agencies greater leeway in national security matters and it put the defenders of an unrestrained national security apparatus on the defensive for the first time in many years.
The “former intelligence official” quoted above seems not to understand the significance of the reform as well. The main problem with the Section 215 collection of metadata wasn’t simply the existence of the metadata itself. It was the potential for that information to be abused. The changes implemented make it harder for NSA to cross that line. That’s a victory, even if it’s a small one in a giant box of other needed reforms.
News items from the last two weeks…
Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes about how the war on sex trafficking is making some of the same mistakes as the war on drugs.
Senators Boxer and Booker are proposing a bill that would require reporting and tracking of all police killings in the United States.
The DOJ is flying dozens of secret aircraft over American cities for reasons that aren’t clear yet.
Brad Heath writes about the DEA’s increased use of wiretaps and their unwillingness to go through the courts.
Abby Phillip writes about the economic cost for communities when police break the law.
Carimah Townes writes about the number of police shootings across the US in May.
Radley Balko points out that there is no evidence of a ‘new crime wave’.
Jason Leopold writes about the tracking of Samir Khan, a radicalized American Muslim who was eventually killed in a drone strike in Yemen.
Tech companies are warning the Obama Administration not to interfere with encryption technology on smartphones.
SCOTUS ruled in favor of a Muslim teen who was denied employment at an Abercrombie & Fitch over her religious attire.
The Justice Department is trying to identify anonymous commenters who’ve left threats against government officials on the Reason website.
A libertarian is a conservative who’s been mugged by the government.
The four remaining victims in the Kettle Falls Five case had their sentencing delayed until October.
An Appeals Court Judge believes that California may have executed an innocent man in 1998.
Despite video evidence showing a Utah cop shooting and killing an innocent man who was wearing headphones and not posing a threat, the killing was ruled justified.
Wyoming has made it illegal for people to collect environmental samples for use in scientific studies.
A Colorado high school valedictorian was prevented from coming out as gay in his graduation speech.
Denver police officers will not face charges for a shooting that killed a 17-year-old.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts is determined to still execute the prisoners on death row in Nebraska, even if he has to break the law and smuggle the lethal drugs into the country to do it.
The officer in McKinney, Texas who went ballistic on a bunch of teenagers at a pool party has resigned.
Police in Austin are under fire after a video surfaced from last weekend of them using excessive force.
Texas governor Greg Abbott vetoed a Good Samaritan law, that shields low-level drug users from arrest if they’re trying to help an overdose victim.
Religious extremists in Texas are closer to shutting down over half of the state’s 20 abortion clinics.
A Louisiana prisoner held for over 40 years in solitary confinement has won his release.
Louisiana is passing a bill that will end the practice of making sexual assault victims pay for their rape kits.
Charges were filed against a number of black family members in Mississippi who were cheering too enthusaistically at a graduation ceremony. The school superintendent later dropped the charges.
A judge in Arkansas ruled that the state has to recognize the validity of gay marriages performed in the state in 2014.
Eli Saslow writes about an Iowa judge who’s seen firsthand the negative effects of mandatory minimums for drug crimes
Matt Ford writes about the mentally ill low-level offenders who fill the Cook County jail.
Four Chicago area police officers are facing charges after being caught lying in court about a drug arrest.
After shooting a 17-year-old 16 times (mostly in the back), Chicago police officers deleted over an hour of video footage from a nearby Burger King.
Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s office investigators claim that a crime wasn’t committed in the Tamir Rice shooting from last fall. Community members are working to have a judge bring charges against the officer directly, which is allowed under Ohio law. One judge agrees there’s enough evidence ot charge them.
A Florida computer professional who was killed by police in 2013 after refusing to obey commands was discovered by photographic evidence to have been wearing ear buds at the time of the shooting.
A Florida couple was charged after their 11-year-old was found playing in their own yard by himself.
Joel Mathis writes about a police shooting in Philadelphia where the victim’s family is suing the city and the mayor is forcing greater transparency from the police.
A New Jersey mayor is upset at how long it’s taking to investigate a police shooting.
Kalief Browder, a New York man who had been held in solitary confinement for years and never given a trial over a stolen backpack, took his own life last week. Hundreds of New Yorkers have been subjected to the same treatment in Riker’s Island. And one suffered an even worse fate.
A New York teenager won a settlement from New York City for an incident where she was arrested for refusing the advances of a police officer in the Bronx (while she was underage).
Video footage has emerged from Boston of the shooting of Usaama Rahim, a man who was allegedly planning to attack police officers and noted crazyperson Pamela Gellar. Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain explore the many unanswered questions about this incident.
The Canadian Senate has passed Bill C-51, which expands Canada’s war on terror to further regulate freedom of speech and association.
Brazil is considering a constitutional change that would allow 16 and 17-year olds to be tried as adults.
A decade-long attempt to charge American soldiers with war crimes in Spain over the death of a cameraman has come to an end.
Ryan Devereaux writes about the efforts by victims of America’s drone strikes to find justice through the German justice system.
Russian police and random thugs broke up an LGBT rally in Moscow.
David Sheen writes about the protests among the Ethiopian community in Israel against growing discrimination and police abuses.
Peter Greste writes about being a journalist persecuted by the Egyptian military government. In the 18 months since the coup that reinstated military rule, 2600 people were killed in related violence.
Ethnic Sunnis in Ramadi are being prevented by the Iraqi government from finding refuge from ISIS in safer parts of the country.
A doctor in Bahrain has been sentenced to 15 years for providing medical care to political protestors.
An Iranian cartoonist was sentenced to 12 years in prison for a cartoon mocking the Iranian parliament.
In Jammu, the army is being deployed against Sikhs who are angry that they are being prevented from honoring a militant leader who died 31 years ago.
The military government in Thailand forced the cancellation of a panel discussion on human rights violations committed by the junta.
Gay marriage officially became recognized in Guam.