I would have written this last night except that I was engrossed in a horde of ice zombies attacking a bunch of escaping villagers (until I realized I had switched over from CSPAN and was actually watching Game of Thrones and not the Establishment GOP and the Obama Administration wailing and gnashing their teeth over the temporarily lost power to infringe on the rights of American citizens in the name of national security).
The Senate gave up on being able to reach a deal on the PATRIOT Act extension covering Section 215, and at midnight last night, the bill’s authority expired. The National Security Agency has shut down most of their metadata collection programs (they began quietly shutting it down around 8pm last night) and the largest and most controversial of their metadata collection programs, the one that collects and keeps Americans’ phone records for at least five years, has been halted, though pending investigations will continue for some time. For the time being, law enforcement will be required to get warrants for individual devices, if they want to continue to wiretap suspects across all forms of digital and analog media, and they will now have to have probable cause to investigate so-called “lone wolf” terror suspects, who do not have any demonstrated connection to a larger terrorist organization but have drawn the ire of authorities anyway. Meanwhile, discussion and debate on the PATRIOT Act provisions will continue. And while the Senate has passed the USA Freedom Act, which reforms the NSA data collection process, that may still take a few days to pass through the President’s hands.
The Senate advanced legislation 77-17 to reform the National Security Agency on Sunday, but parts of the Patriot Act will nonetheless lapse for a few days amid opposition from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
The legislation, called the USA Freedom Act, will not reach President Obama’s desk until after the three measures expire at midnight, meaning that the provisions will expire until the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by Obama later this week.
“The Patriot Act will expire tonight,” Paul declared triumphantly from the Senate floor during a rare Sunday evening vote. “It will only be temporary. They will ultimately get their way.”
Obama has supported the measure and had repeatedly urged lawmakers to support it in the days leading up to Sunday’s deadline. The bill needed 60 votes in order to advance.
Rand’s contention is, of course, that even the USA Freedom Act doesn’t go far enough to address all of the overreach in the PATRIOT Act, a bill that was hastily passed in the wake of a terrorist attack and, while useful in some measures, contains many programs that have, in practice, been used more often in the War on Drugs than in the War on Terror — including many programs law enforcement had been asking for but which were denied by Congress as being too intrusive prior to 9/11. While much of the PATRIOT Act has done well to keep us safe, a full assessment of the need and impact is warranted, especially when it comes to the programs that have been infringing on Constitutional rights without proper consideration by other branches of government, including, but not limited to, the judicial branch. Remember, you can’t sue for a violation of your rights unless you know you’re a target. And the way the NSA’s programs are structured, it’s quite difficult to ascertain any targets at all, correct or incorrect.
The Senate will attempt to rectify the delays this week, but there may have been one ray of sunshine in Mitch McConnell’s decision to let the PATRIOT Act hinge on a late vote, thus paving the way for Rand Paul’s floor show: the PATRIOT Act was delayed so that the Senate could debate the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that publicly divided Democrats. So while the Republicans are falling on two separate sides of an issue today, they can rest easy in knowing that they both put Democrats on the defensive on privacy — a topic Barack Obama campaigned on and most Democrats openly accused the Bush Administration of running roughshod over (Obama has, reportedly, increased the NSA’s authority by more than 60% over spying at the height of the Bush Administration) — and they allowed people like Elizabeth Warren to openly challenge the President on progressive issues. The White House can’t be happy with that.