Domestic spying

Senate Votes to Maintain the National Security Surveillance State


Uncle Sam Spy

Last night the U.S. Senate could not muster the 60 votes that would have allowed debate and a vote on the USA FREEDOM Act to proceed. For most privacy and liberty advocates, the USA FREEDOM Act was a first step toward reining in the National Security Agency's (NSA) pervasive spying on innocent American citizens. While this version of the bill was far from perfect, it would …

…rein in the dragnet collection of data by the National Security Agency (NSA), increase the transparency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) decision—making, provide businesses the ability to release information regarding FISA requests, create an independent advocate to argue cases before the FISA Court,and impose new and shorter sunsets on controversial surveillance authorities.

The future Senate majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strenuously opposed the bill declaring that passing it would amount to "tying our hands behind our back." McConnell was able to keep 42 Republicans in line so that debate on the bill could not go forward. Among those voting against debate, was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Politico reported:

Opposition was led by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and colleague Sen. Rand Paul, who both voted down the legislation, though for different reasons. McConnell, like many Republicans, voted it down because he believed the reforms went too far, while Paul voted against the bill because it did not go far enough.

Paul said immediately after the vote that he "felt bad" about his vote against the motion.

"They probably needed my vote," he said, opposing Leahy's bill because it would extend the sunset provisions for the laws authorizing surveillance. "It's hard for me to vote for something I object to so much."

Although his single vote would not have been enough to open up debate, Paul should nevertheless have heeded the insight of the developer of radar Robert Alexander Watson-Watt who explained, "Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes." I am no parliamentarian, but it appears that under Senate rules because Paul voted with the prevailing side, he could move to have the Senate reconsider the bill, although it seems unlikely that he will do so.

Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.

See below Reason TV's interview with NSA whistleblower William Binney.

NEXT: U.S. Government Tries to Mug the Mayor of London

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  1. So, I’ve heard mixed things about this. On one hand, that it would have limited, at least a bit, what the NSA could do. On the other, that it merely shifted record collection to the telecoms but didn’t provide any meaningful restrictions on how and when government could access that information.

    I’m confused. It be nice to see a more detailed breakdown of the pros and cons.

    1. LP#: Here’s what Paul says about his vote. Fine. But if Paul thinks that McConnell as Senate minority leader opposes reining in the NSA, what does he think McConnell will do as majority leader?

      1. Does McConnell have 60 votes as majority leader to renew provisions?

        I doubt it.

        1. So, without the extension the provisions end next year?

          1. I dont know exactly, but this bill extended them.

            1. If this bill extended them then this bill sucks and Paul did the right thing.

  2. Yeah but what’s the global warming angle?

    1. 32 1/3 degrees

  3. The USA FREEDOM Act was worse than a joke; it actually would have strengthened the surveillance state. It was just a fig leaf for the NSA’s defenders to say “hey look, we did something.” The fact that people like Dianne Feinstein, Mike Rogers, and Barack Obama supported it should have been a dead giveaway.

    The ‘USA Freedom Act’ Is A Fraud

    1. ^ THIS! Rand Paul is right to not support a patriotically titled piece of paper that does nothing while also extending the abhorrent Patriot Act.

    2. Apparently Ron Bailey supported it as well. Bailey sides with Mike Rogers while Mitch McConnell sides with Rand Paul.

    3. The Act would have reined in the lying weasels only insofar as you can trust a pack of lying weasels when you make them pinky swear that they’re going to stop being lying weasels.

      All the talk about what the positives in the law would have done are only positives if you believe that the NSA would not have interpreted “Thou shalt not” as “do whatever the hell you want” – which is exactly how they’ve been secretly interpreting the law up til now. Ferchrissakes, the whole FISA apparatus was set up as a way to stop them from doing exactly the sorts of things that they are now using the FISA apparatus to empower them to do.

      And a worse danger is that, having enacted this “reform”, people are going to stop paying attention to the fact that they are still doing all the things they shouldn’t be doing under the assumption that the “reform” actually accomplished something.

      If you’re going to go that route, you might as well have passed Feinstein’s “reform” to ensure the NSA did nothing illegal which worked simply by declaring everything the NSA did legal.

      And for godssake, somebody take the PATRIOT ACT out behind the barn and put a fucking bullet in its head.

  4. People on the radio today were still not able to distinguish between the govt tapping into citizens’ data without being given permission and EVUL KOCHPORASHUNZZOMFG!one!!1! collecting data for marketing purposes.

    “Cause Best Buy can’t force me to do anything, and the government forces me to do everything at the barrel of a gun. And – I voluntarily provided that information to Best Buy, whereas the gov’t stole most of the data they have without getting my permission. Zat clear enough?”

    No, apparently it is not.

    1. The understand the difference. What they don’t/can’t/won’t understand is why people ascribe bad motives to government and good motives to profit-driven businesses.

  5. Didn’t this bill reauthorize and extend provisions of the Patriot Act?

    Was Paul the only Republican Senator whose opposition was based on the “reform” not going far enough?

    I guess these questions might be answered elsewhere by some other journalist.

  6. I’m a bit puzzled as to why people think this would have made a difference. Congress _already_ voted against the NSA’s mass surveillance back in 2003 when it was called Total Information Awareness. Are we supposed to believe that if this act had passed, the NSA would suddenly say, “Well, gosh, this time they really meant it, I guess we’d better stop?”

    The only way to stop the NSA is to destroy the NSA.

  7. Yeah, we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Someday it may be necessary to support mandatory savings to get rid of Social Security or taxes on internet sales to get rid of the income tax. Can’t ever lose sight of the big picture–not when the opportunities to change direction come by so infrequently.

    And there will be less support in the Republicans Senate for reforming the NSA or making FISA courts more transparent than there is now. Really, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between Rand Paul having to pinch his nose and vote for the big picture and us having to pinch our noses and vote for the GOP.

    …certainly, just because the Democrats are so painfully stupid on economic issues doesn’t mean any of us should support the Republicans enthusiastically flushing our Constitutional rights down the toilet. Betraying the Constitution is treasonous, and the fear of Muslims is cowardly. Rand Paul had a chance to change the game a little bit there.

    Swing and a miss!

    1. There was nothing good in this bill. It would have strengthened the NSA.

      1. There’s some bathwater, but Bailey lists some nice lookin’ babies, there, too.

        1. The link I posted above explains why those improvements are meaningless at best, and counterproductive at worst. Do you honestly believe that Dianne Feinstein, Mike Rogers, and Barack Obama support limitations on the NSA?

          1. “On the other side of the barricades, the proponents of the original USA Freedom Act basically dismantled the promiscuous collection of Americans’ phone records and other communications by the NSA.”


            Raimondo is saying good things, there, about the same bill Bailey is talking about, too.

            Am I right?

            You’re saying the bill they voted on yesterday wasn’t that bill–so Rand Paul didn’t hold his nose and vote for the libertarian big picture because the big picture wasn’t that bill that both Raimondo and Bailey saw good things in.

            Fair enough, but what I’m not getting is why the Republican leadership was against it. I’m not willing to give Dianne Feinstein, Mike Rodgers, or Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt–but I’m not giving Mitch McConnel the benefit of the doubt, either.

            Do you really think Mitch McConnel opposed this bill because he wants to defend out Constitutional rights against the surveillance state?!

            Read through McConnel’s pile of horseshit again:


            There’s gotta be a pony here somewhere!

            1. Oh, I have no illusions that McConnell isn’t a worthless, statist, pile of shit.

            2. Raimondo is a retard and this bill is worthless.

  8. Ignoring the fact that this bill isnt good, while sometimes you shouldnt let perfect be the enemy of good, at other times you shouldnt let good be the enemy of perfect.

    There are times to stand firmly without any compromise.

    In this particular case, it was more about not accepting questionable improvement. I really dont see any problem with Paul’s position on this bill.

  9. The USA FREEDOM Act creates an Office of the Special Advocate tasked with promoting privacy interests in the FISA Court’s closed proceedings. The Office will be staffed by attorneys who are properly cleared to view the classified information considered by the FISA Court.

    Needz moar positionz and taskz for lawyerz.

    1. Those advocates would also be appointed by the rubber stamp FISA Court.

      1. Rubber stamps need jobs too!

        1. Maybe they could recruit some people from the various Police Department citizens review boards that already are practiced in the art of rubber-stamping what they’re told to rubber stamp and never seeing what they’re told not to see.

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  11. Alternate article title: Senate blocks renewal of Patriot Act.

    I’m not seeing that as “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

  12. I am by no means a “Paul can do no wrong” person but this:

    Although his single vote would not have been enough to open up debate, is not congruous with Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.

    If his vote wouldn’t have been enough to open debate, then he didn’t allow anything to get in the way of anything.

  13. Lets roll it on over dude. WOw.

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