It is no secret that the NSA and its right-wing toadies are pining for an extension of the contentious Section 215 of the Patriot Act. But to get that section of the act, which is due to “sunset” in June extended, concessions to civil libertarians and the chorus of opposition on the left must be accomplished.
The Obama administration, seemingly forever on the wrong side the surveillance debate in the eyes of privacy advocates, is attempting to publicly rebrand itself as anti-surveillance in order to mollify its electoral base and appeal more broadly to the masses. As a result, the ill-fated USA Freedom Act of last year is being resurrected – having been resuscitated by a watering down of some of the Acts most odious surveillance practices. The revised measure would trade the end of bulk domestic phone data collection retention, in return for much of Section 215’s onerous provisions.
Some in Congress, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky), pandering to the law enforcement advocates who predominate in its base, have been posturing for a straight extension of the pernicious provision. This blanket approval is not likely to happen, so a palatable compromise is in the offing, which will pass the NSA’s sniff test.
It is likely that the agency will be allowed to continue to monitor foreign targets that enter the US, and will permit the agency to surveil domestic suspects for whom it has obtained probable-cause warrants. A bone will also be thrown to law enforcement, with the proposed lengthening of prison sentences for some infractions.
You may remember that the dead-in-the-water Freedom Act was doomed by privacy groups who deemed that the Obama administration and intelligence agency advocates had weakened its prohibitions on bulk data collection and was lacking in transparency. Supporters, however, seem optimistic of passage this time around with the concessions (permitting the extension of Section 215, with only minor changes) it is offering.
However, significant differences still exist between the administration and the privacy and tech communities, who are not on board with seeing Section 215 extended, seeing it even in its diluted fashion as a surveillance law nonetheless. At the 11th hour, groups on both sides of the debate are working feverishly to bridge the gaps in order to make the measure palatable to privacy advocates and surveillance hawks alike.
To be clear, the proposed legislative action would extend, virtually intact, existing surveillance practices until 2019…