The US Senate will vote today on whether to reconsider the Patriot Act, which revolutionized the government’s domestic surveillance power in the wake of 9/11. The Patriot Act, which covers everything from whether the government is allowed to collect data from your cell phone to whether you have to provide a driver’s license to obtain allergy medication, is due to expire June 1.
Sometime in the not-too-distant past, there were people who opposed the Patriot Act because it represented a huge government over-reach that drastically limited Americans’ privacy. That’s not as true today, possibly because the President is no longer a Republican, even if he is a President who has taken the rubric set out by a Republican President and expanded it immeasurably. Thanks to our privacy-loving leader, Barack Obama, if you ever fail to make an accurate record of every single phone call you’ve ever made on your cell phone, there’s an NSA facility in Utah that can make you a copy, provided you can somehow navigate all of the roadblocks in the Freedom of Information Act that Obama Administration agencies have established.
There is some legislation, on the menu today, that could gut some of the more odious parts of the Patriot Act, the patriotically named USA Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy. The Act bans bulk collection of data, grants more leeway to the FISA court special advocate, bans the NSA from undermining common encryption standards, and gives a clearer path to litigation for Americans who feel victimized by the data collection system. All that’s good, and everyone from the NRA to the ACLU is on board. It’s not perfect by any stretch, of course (Sen. Rand Paul, for example, is opposed because the Act itself reauthorizes the Patriot Act in its entirety). But there’s not a lot to worry about in that department because it may not pass anyway, thanks to a certain someone who, despite a narrow re-election, just can’t keep his grubby paws off your phone records in the name of national security.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is asking his fellow Republicans to block a bill that would curtail the government’s domestic spying powers. In fact, he doesn’t even want the Senate to talk about the measure.
In a statement Tuesday, McConnell said he “strongly opposes” the USA Freedom Act because it would hamper the U.S.’s ability to combat the rising threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs. The threat from ISIL is real,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement, using a different name to refer to the Islamic State. “It’s different from what we’ve faced before. And if we’re going to overcome it—if our aim is to degrade and destroy ISIL, as the president has said—then that’s going to require smart policies and firm determination.”
At least we can say he’s consistent.
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