Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

U.S. Congress Begins Retooling Surveillance Powers

The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, with some better news for your privacy:

The USA Freedom Act represents the first legislative overhaul passed in response to the 2013 disclosures of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone “metadata” and the legal rationale for it — the little-noticed Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, passed in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The new legislation places additional curbs on that authority, most significantly by mandating a six-month transition to a system in which the call data — which includes call numbers, times and durations — would remain in private company hands but could be searched on a case-by-case basis under a court order. One supporter, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), described the legislation as “the most significant surveillance reform in decades.”

Can we clear something up to start? “USA FREEDOM” is apparently an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring”, which is at least as mangled and forced as the USA PATRIOT Act’s “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”. American lawmakers need to stop this. It isn’t clever.

There’s a lot to like in this bill, aside from its name. FISA courts, processes, and decisions are now much more accessible, and there are more stringent requirements for gaining phone records. But it also makes Section 215 and “roving” wiretaps valid until the end of 2019. For practical purposes, this does not limit the surveillance capabilities of the U.S. government much, especially since the NSA programs exposed by Snowden have likely not been curbed, and there’s no way of knowing their standing until the next Snowden comes along.