In his weekly column, "Defeat of USA FREEDOM Act is a Victory for Freedom," former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) makes it clear that the he is happy that the USA FREEDOM Act was blocked last week from further consideration in the U.S. Senate. Why? Because he thinks the bill was too weak a reform of domestic spying and that it extended the sunset periods for three provisions of the misbegotten PATRIOT ACT until 2017. This is basically the same position that his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took when he voted against opening up debate on the bill and allowing the process of trying to amend it to go forward.
Most of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act have been made permanent, but three still have to be periodically reapproved by Congress. Those provisions permit (1) government surveillance of "lone wolf" terrorists who are not associated with any known terrorist group; (2) permit the government to obtain roving wire taps without having to identify either a specific subject or specific device to be monitored; and (3) obtain business records which has been vastly reinterpreted by the NSA and other intelligence agencies to permit the government to get, among other things, the telephone meta-data of every American citizen.
These provisions are supposed to expire on June 1, 2015, and the USA FREEDOM Act would have extended them until 2017.
As noted in my column last week, "USA FREEDOM Act and Rand Paul," the lone wolf provision has apparently never been used, and agencies using the roving wiretap have always identified a specific target. The USA FREEDOM Act sought to limit the NSA and other agencies abuse of meta-data by requiring narrow, specific searches through telephone company databases. Most privacy advocacy groups thought that reform was not enough, but that it would have been a step toward reining in domestic spying. In addition, many privacy advocates hoped that the bill might be strengthened through amendments as the Senate debated it.
The Pauls are evidently hoping that the approaching expiration of all three provisions in June will spark a debate that ends up with Congress imposing even stronger limits on domestic surveillance. Ron Paul writes:
With the failure of the FREEDOM Act to move ahead in the Senate last week, several of the most egregious sections of the PATRIOT Act are set to sunset next June absent a new authorization. Congress will no doubt be under great pressure to extend these measures. We must do our very best to make sure they are unsuccessful!
Yes, we must. But as I argued in my column, I worry that when June comes around Paul may end up regretting the day he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better. We'll know in six months.