The Patriot Act, and with it the contentious Section 215, is about to expire unless Congress acts to extend it, and it appears that it will if efforts led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) succeed in swaying its membership. If he has his way, the controversial and once secret Section 215, with its odious surveillance provisions, will be in effect until 2020. The section allows the FISA court to continue to rubber-stamp government requests for individual’s phone records.
McConnell invoked a rule that will quash elaborate debate on the law by having it bypass the usual committee scrutiny, and usher it directly to the Senate floor without prior debate or discussion. It seems like an appropriate path to take for such a once secretive, prickly provision, and at a time when some members of congress are moving to limit the powers of the snooping act.
At a time when its influence could affect the tone of the debate and the direction of the measure’s fate, the White House is appallingly silent on the issue, content to assess the political fallout from afar, rather than stand up for privacy. Given the administration’s less than stellar record on surveillance policy in the past, this comes as no surprise.
US foreign policy, while contentious and uneven under Bush, is a disaster under Obama. Thus, the Section 215 debate presents a dilemma for Democrats who want to distance themselves from Obama’s feckless foreign policy, while at the same time presenting the Republicans with an opportunity to appear strong on national security – especially compared to a wounded president (at least as far as foreign policy is concerned. )
The just released book detailing Hilary Clinton’s questionable activities while Secretary of State -particularly regarding Russia and the White House’s failure to supervise her, and its lack of knowledge of her dangerous and embarrassing dealings – further paints the administration as being weak on security. Congress seems poised to capitalize on this by portraying itself as being on top of national security issues. Not good news for privacy advocates who oppose the Patriot Act.
The possibility of a nearly six-year extension of the measure, especially without any meaningful change, is tough t0 swallow, and has some opponents vocally opposing that likelihood. The Center for Democracy & Technology immediately blasted the proposal, too, with Harley Geiger, the group’s advocacy director, noting that,
“The Senate Majority Leader’s bill makes no attempt to protect Americans’ privacy or reform ongoing NSA surveillance programs that do not provide any tangible benefit to national security. For Americans concerned about government intrusion in their lives, the bill is a kick in the stomach. We strongly urge Congress to take the opportunity right now to re-balance privacy and security of the PATRIOT Act, rather than succumb to inertia. Congress should act decisively to end the NSA’s bulk collection of communication records, not endorse it.”
With time running out to do anything about the impending renewal, we recommend that you contact your representative and make some noise before it is too late!