About a week ago, I wrote a piece about the relevance of Edward Snowden nearly two years on from his revelations. His significance was sustained yesterday by the Senate, following the House lead, in passing legislation which allowed the contentious Section 215 of the Patriot Act to expire.
Senate rejected amendments by Majority leader Mitch McConnell to mitigate the impact of the reforms in passing the first meaningful anti-surveillance legislation in decades. Fellow Kentucky senator and 2016 presidential candidate, Rand Paul, toiled laboriously against any measure that would allow the government to so blatantly intrude on citizens’ telecommunications.
Given the outcome, he was partially successful. The Senate passed a watered-down surveillance bill by a vote of 62-32 and it will now go to a congressional conference before it officially becomes a law to be known as the USA Freedom Act.
Critics of the Patriot Act and supporters of limiting its scope hailed the Senate vote. Center for Democracy and Technology President & CEO, Nuala O’Connor, said,
“This is a generational win for privacy and transparency. We’ve successfully restricted government surveillance, protecting the privacy of Americans and strengthening transparency, while preserving our national security. The era of casually dismissing mass surveillance as unimportant to liberty is over – even in Congress.”
The bulk collection of phone records began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and was later codified under Section 215 of the US Patriot Act, which in turn led to the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), which conducted its affairs in secret.
So the defeat of a direct extension and passing of this legislation not only brings an end to snooping with impunity, but, as importantly, brings public matters into the light of day. There now will be more oversight .
The victory is a bitter-sweet one for Edward Snowden, because while heartened by recent pro-privacy outcomes (in this measure, and in a recent federal court decision on bulk collection of data,) he recognizes that more such government programs must be addressed. Assuredly, debate will continue over the tenuous posture of the administration and its agencies that national security is threatened by such laws, even as data, and their own admissions, does not reveal an instance where bulk collection has stymied an attack.
The argument of liberty versus security will not dissipate any time soon. Many in the pro-privacy camp are sustained by the still relevant Edward Snowden, buoyed by the fact that he continues to rail, albeit from afar in exile, about government surveillance excesses. So, the disclosures made by him in June of 2013 in a Hong Kong hotel room reverberate to this day and, maybe, have made a greater impact than he could have imagined.