Senator Cotton Introduces Bill To Extend Unconstitutional NSA Surveillance
from the how nice of him dept
I happen to be in Washington DC this week for some events and meetings — and it’s a… ridiculous week to be here, apparently (of course, that could be true of just about any week here). Earlier this week, we noted the pathological ridiculousness of surveillance state apologists like former NSA top lawyer Stewart Baker arguing that the Paris attacks are evidence for why the NSA should not roll back its Section 215 collection. The 215 collection is, of course, the completely unconstitutional (as declared by both an appeals court and the White House’s own civil liberties board) program by which the NSA slurped up basically all phone records, claiming that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act allowed this.
Of course, the primary sponsor of the PATRIOT Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, has flat out said that Section 215 was written to prevent that kind of mass surveillance, not to enable it. And so, earlier this year, Congress finally pushed through the USA Freedom Act, which was far from perfect, but still did put an end to the Section 215 collection as it stands (while still leaving open ways for the NSA to effectively get the same data). There was a six-month “transition period” which is about to close, meaning that we’re officially mere days away from ending the specific 215 bulk collection.
Or, maybe not. As Baker hinted at, the surveillance state apologists are gleefully exploiting the Paris attacks to try to claw back this very, very minor victory against mass surveillance. Senator Tom Cotton quickly rushed out a bill to “postpone” indefinitely the transition away from the 215 program, because of the Paris attacks.
“The terrorist attacks in Paris last week are a terrible reminder of the threats we face every day. And it made clear that the President’s empty policy of tough talk and little action isn’t working against ISIS. Regrettably, these policy follies also extend to the Intelligence Community, whose hands were tied by the passage of the USA FREEDOM ACT. This legislation, along with President Obama’s unilateral actions to restrict the Intelligence Community’s ability to track terrorist communications, takes us from a constitutional, legal, and proven NSA collection architecture to an untested, hypothetical one that will be less effective. And this transition will occur less than two weeks from today, at a time when our threat level is incredibly high.
“If we take anything from the Paris attacks, it should be that vigilance and safety go hand-in-hand. Now is not the time to sacrifice our national security for political talking points. We should allow the Intelligence Community to do their job and provide them with the tools they need to keep us safe. Passing the Liberty Through Strength Act will empower the NSA to uncover threats against the United States and our allies, help keep terrorists out of the United States, and track down those responsible in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.”
Almost everything in Cotton’s statement is a lie. First of all, the FREEDOM Act hasn’t even gone into effect yet, so even if it did “tie the hands” of the intelligence community, it had not done so yet. Second, the program has been declared unconstitutional by multiple courts and the administration’s own review board. For him to call it constitutional suggests he has no problem flat out lying. Also the idea that it’s “proven”? Need we remind you of two facts? (1) To date, the Section 215 program has never — not even once — been shown to have been useful in stopping a terrorist attack. (2) It clearly didn’t make a difference in dealing with the Paris attacks (and, again, notably the US has even greater surveillance powers overseas, as do the French). So to claim that this one unconstitutional and proven useless program is necessary is just… weird.
Sensenbrenner was at an event I attended last evening and said that he didn’t think Cotton’s ridiculous bill had much of a chance, but did note that it was hardly the end of surveillance state apologists from trying to expand unconstitutional surveillance powers. Cotton’s is just the first attempt, but expect there to be many more.