Patriot Act

Is Sanity Finally Returning to Terrorism Prevention?

The recent federal ruling against mass metadata collection could help turn the corner.

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U.S. National Archives

One lesson of American history is that in times of war or crisis, American presidents, lawmakers, and citizens often lose their minds. Another lesson is that they eventually regain their senses. When it comes to national security in the age of terrorism, it looks as though the national fever has broken. 

When Congress passed the PATRIOT Act in October 2001, it gave the federal government greater authority for foreign intelligence and terrorism investigations. In those panicky days, the impulse was to say: Do whatever you have to do, and if the American Civil Liberties Union isn't happy, do more of it. 

But even those who wanted to unleash the national security state didn't realize what they were creating. Not until 2013, when leaks by Edward Snowden exposed the actual scope of government surveillance, did we find out how far the Bush administration and the Obama administration were willing to go in sacrificing privacy. 

Snowden let us know that by 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting and storing records of virtually every phone call made in the United States. Not just calls by al-Qaida operatives and Hezbollah sympathizers: calls by Serena Williams, Tom Hanks, Uncle Zeke, and, of course, you. 

The NSA created this program under a section of the PATRIOT Act that even the most paranoid anti-statists never dreamed could be stretched so far. It came as a particular surprise to one James Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls, Wis., who as the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee actually wrote the law. 

"I can say that if Congress knew what the NSA had in mind in the future immediately after 9/11, the Patriot Act never would have passed, and I never would have supported it," said Sensenbrenner after the Snowden revelations. When Congress renewed the crucial provision in 2011, many or most members still didn't know how it was being used. 

On Thursday, a federal appeals court ruled that the domestic phone records collection is illegal because it goes way beyond what Congress had in mind and any plausible reading of the text or other legal powers. The relevant section of the PATRIOT Act, it said, "cannot be interpreted in a way that defies any meaningful limit." The government's broad reading of the law, it said, threatens "an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans." 

If Congress wants to let the NSA gather and store every phone record from every American from now till the end of time, the court declared, it will have to man up and say so. 

That it has not done—and may not be willing to do. The relevant section of the law expires June 1. The House Judiciary Committee recently gave bipartisan approval to the "USA Freedom Act," which would end the phone records collection and curtail the government's access to such information. It would be able to obtain these records only to investigate specific individuals for specific suspicions. 

Hardliners oppose any effort to stop this indiscriminate snooping. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the House bill would "neither keep us safe nor protect our privacy." Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., insisted the phone records collection is needed to prevent the next 9/11. 

In fact, as a way of preventing terrorism, it has been a gargantuan waste. The president's own blue-ribbon review panel extensively queried NSA officers and concluded that "there has been no instance in which NSA could say with confidence that the outcome would have been different without" the program. 

The independent, congressionally created Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said it had never "directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack." A federal district court reached the same conclusion. 

Never have so many Americans had their privacy invaded to such a huge extent for such microscopic benefits. Politicians who, in the wake of 9/11, never had the idea that such measures were needed now tell us they are indispensable. 

It's a classic exercise in covering bottoms. If no terrorism occurs while the program is in operation, the supporters can claim credit. If terrorism does occur, they can say they did all they could. If civil liberties suffer, that merely confirms our leaders' steely resolve. 

In the years since the World Trade Center came down, many Americans, including the judges who ruled Thursday, have come to realize the sober fact that some steps to prevent terrorism are excessive, useless or both. It took a long time, but sanity is making a comeback. 

NEXT: Egyptian Christian teenagers face blasphemy charges for video mocking ISIS, which included some fake prayers

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  1. Let’s hope so! Chapman is always a great read. A libertarian without an agenda. One rare voice, speaking to and for America’s libertarian majority, not to just the Tribe.

    1. Ahhhh, the libertarian majority! Led by fearless leader: Micky Fihn!

      1. Vulgar Madman|5.11.15 @ 3:16AM
        Ahhhh, the libertarian majority! Led by fearless leader: Micky Fihn!

        Many of us have a life outside the tribal reservation. (gasp)
        https://reason.com/archives/201…..nt_5290425

    2. America’s libertarian majority

      *citation needed

      1. Steve, I suppose that an “America’s libertarian majority” could exist, but it’s hard for me to imagine what it looks like. The closest my mind gets is an open plain with hundreds of cats wandering through it. Then my brain shifts to coffee.

        I don’t drink coffee.

        1. Charles Easterly|5.11.15 @ 7:51AM|
          I don’t drink coffee.

          Just Kool-Aid?

          1. I don’t drink Kool-Aid.
            Even if I wanted to, Michael, it seems that every time I arrive at a gathering others have already drank the entire supply.

            On a serious note – that was an interesting article you provided a link for. Thanks.

            1. Even if I wanted to, Michael, it seems that every time I arrive at a gathering others have already drank the entire supply.

              You noticed? 🙂

              On a serious note – that was an interesting article you provided a link for. Thanks.

              I’m amused (or terrified) that Boaz does not have a clue what he reported (or he wouldn’t have). The head of Zogby Polling kept trying to correct things on his blog. I assume he gave up, because all his posts on the subject were deleted.

      2. America’s libertarian majority
        *citation needed

        If you know who the Cato Institute is, take it up with them. “America’s libertarian majority” is from a Zogby survey commissioned by Cato. They also found that the libertarian brand is rejected by 91% of libertarians. Take it up with Cato.

        Emphasis added or the totally clueless
        http://www.cato.org/policy-rep…..-2004-2006
        “In our Zogby survey we found that only 9 percent of voters with libertarian views identify themselves that way. Voters we identified as libertarian identified themselves this way: … We asked half the sample, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?”
        Fully 59 percent of the respondents said “yes” … they would describe themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”
        (Source is lengthy. Scroll down prox 2/3, just below boldface subhead, “How Libertarians See Themselves”)

        Do you know the World’s Smallest Political Quiz? Not as formal a survey, but the majority has scored in the top half of the chart for over 30 years.
        Any questions?

        1. It’s not like the quiz is rigged. Come on.

          1. I think I have finally figured out the supposed meaning of this. The above post is evidence that the only thing standing in the way from a Libertarian moment is people who identify as L/libertarian.

            Let’s call it the Postrel syndrome. While she supports Libertarian positions she doesn’t identify as a “Libertarian” because “those guys are jerks”.

            1. Libertarianism was so much better when Virginia Postrel was at Reason…

              1. Libertarianism was so much better when Virginia Postrel was at Reason…

                Libertarianism hasn’t changed. Reason has. We still have tens of thousands of libertarians, elected and serving in LOCAL office.
                I’m one, and I’ve recruited and/or developed dozens more. In the vast majority of instances, they pitch their campaign and platform as fiscally conservative an socially liberal. It works, exactly as predicted by the WSPQ for over 30 years.
                Consider how stupid the strategy and tactics are: ignore the 59% of Americans who are Nolan libertarians. Focus instead on independents — who are much fewer overall AND 30% collectivist, Brilliant, eh?
                What made Postrel so effective, and a few others, is that they stood above all the internal factions. Instead of pandering to the worst of them.

            2. Marshall Gill|5.11.15 @ 9:07AM
              I think I have finally figured out the supposed meaning of this.

              Lame excuses.

              ? the only thing standing in the way from a Libertarian moment is people who identify as L/libertarian.

              Umm, not quite. It’s our eternal conflict — anti-gummint vs pro-liberty. Do we spend all our time attacking government … or do we develop specific strategies and policies to govern. The anti-gummint mentality sneers at that, but has no clue how to create and govern a free society.

              Let’s call it the Postrel syndrome.

              LAME. It’s called Nolan Chart libertarianism, or where we began, in 1969. Some facts you cannot deny:
              1) Who changed public opinion so strongly on marriage equality, civil liberties, school, choice and so many other issues? Was it the 5.3% of Americans who self-identify as libertarians ? or the Nolan libertarians who are 54% of Americans? (duh)
              2) Reason reports to the 5.3% libertarians the achievements by 54% libertarians
              …. while Reason also claims credit for what they don’t even understand!

              she doesn’t identify as a “Libertarian” because “those guys are jerks”.

              LAME, Those guys (your tribe) are jerks to 91% of all libertarians … which leaves you twisting in the wind, all alone. Documented facts, by Cato and a top political pollster, Accept reality,

              1. LAME, Those guys (your tribe) are jerks to 91% of all libertarians … which leaves you twisting in the wind, all alone. Documented facts, by Cato and a top political pollster, Accept reality,

                Well, we are clearly going to have to pick up our game. I think if the commentariat would work at it, we could be jerks to 100%. All we need do is emulate….you.

          2. It’s not like the quiz is rigged. Come on.

            1) It was not a quiz. It was a survey.
            2) It was conducted by one of America’s top political pollsters.
            3) Can you describe HOW it was rigged, or are you just is a snit from the results?

        2. Yeah, Shreek got a 94 percent on the test, and it would have been 100% but he was fapping to a picture of Chocolate Nixon while taking the test. The test is flawed.

          1. Shreek got a 94 percent on the test,

            There us no such score.

            The test is flawed.

            How would you know?

      1. Schmuck.

        Well, that was thoughtful.

        https://reason.com/archives/201…..nt_5290425

  2. Further evidence that when the title of an article is a question, the answer is “no.”

    Optimism is great and all, but I’m not seeing the gummint letting go of all this.

    1. Further further evidence the answer is ‘no’
      http://www.militarytimes.com/s…../26977641/

      1. Further further evidence the answer is ‘no’
        http://www.militarytimes.com/s…../26977641/

        Hysteria much? How does that relate, in any way, to domestic surveillance of citizens without a warrant?

    2. Optimism is great and all, but I’m not seeing the gummint letting go of all this.

      Try following the news.

  3. Terrorism/ISIS will be the #1 topic in the upcoming GOP debates.

    So the answer is “No”.

    1. Rest assured a Hillary Clinton presidency would spell the immediate end of the surveillance state … Right?

      1. Of course not. Hil-Dog voted for the Iraq War and has only recently admitted it was a mistake. She is not much better than Jeb (who is still today proud to back his idiot brother’s decision).

        Government programs never go away. That is why it is so important to kill them in the womb.

        1. She’s not much better than Jeb. You’ll vote for her. I know it. You know it. And everybody here knows it. Evidently, you don’t think we know it. You seriously are a delusional fool.

          1. I despise her but you’re goddamn right I would vote for her over a fucking Bushpig.

            1. The slightly lesser of two evils eh? A regular man of principals aren’t you?

              1. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil ButtPlug

    2. Terrorism/ISIS will be the #1 topic in the upcoming GOP debates.
      So the answer is “No”.

      (yawn) Even if #1 is correct, all that says is scaling back the Patriot Act is not unanimous. Whoever said it was?

  4. This is a genie you can’t put back into the bottle. Free enterprise or state enterprise, ubiquitous intelligence gathering is here to stay.

    1. One of those enterprises gets to point guns at people and get away with it.

      1. This is true, but my view is that the incentives for both are going to increase. I can imagine no legislative solution which decreases the incentives to pursue pervasive intelligence gathering. I expect the private sector to most rapidly advance the technology for gathering and using data, and the government parasites will inevitably tag along.

        This power has implications for personal liberty at least as far-reaching as letting police wield arms. Governing power ultimately belongs to those who exercise it. The threat to personal autonomy is ultimately a matter of degree and of the perception of legitimacy.

  5. If Americans stop panicking then the Terrorists have Won!!!!

    1. I know! Why do they hate America so?

      1. Because of our FREEEEEEEEEEEDUMBZZZZZZ!

  6. What a nice way to start the week.

  7. Judging by the ever increasing presence of different types of state agents in GCT I’d have to go with no.

  8. No, sanity doesn’t appear to be returning to terrorism protection, otherwise the data mining would continue and even update itself, bringing it into the modern times, so that it could actually determine trends identified as terrorist activities. This overwrought anxiety about the government collecting anonymous data that could actually protect us if it were improved, is really just a symptom of libertarian overreach. It is the government’s job to protect it’s citizens — in fact it’s main job. The obvious truth is that the majority of American’s don’t mind their data being abused by huge marketing and research agencies, which are far more intrusive than anything the NSA does. I am as against government overreach as anyone, but this is a moronic place to take a stand. Why not focus on the multitudes of other areas that the government actually tromps on your liberties — they are everywhere else.

    1. And those marketing and research agencies are just exactly like the government. In fact, Google just arrested a bunch of people the other day!

    2. The obvious truth is that the majority of American’s don’t mind their data being abused by huge marketing and research agencies, which are far more intrusive than anything the NSA does.

      Really? Google is spying on my phone calls and e-mails?

      I am as against government overreach as anyone

      Obviously not. “Well, corporations do it” is a justification, not a denunciation.

    3. Voluntary vs. involuntary association – these things are not quite the same thing.

      There should be more restrictions on what the government can do, and less focus on what Google or Amazon is doing.

    4. the majority of American’s don’t mind their data being abused by huge marketing and research agencies

      Oh noez! Someone might try to sell me stuff! The horror! The horror…

      Fuck off, slaver.

    5. It is the government’s job to protect it’s citizens

      NO, it is not. The government’s job is to protect the rights of its citizens. HUGE difference.

      American’s don’t mind their data being abused by huge marketing and research agencies, which are far more intrusive than anything the NSA does.

      Because the huge marketing and research agencies have the authority to throw you in a rape cage based on the data they collect…

      Are you really so stupid as to not see the difference?

  9. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ?????? http://www.Jobs-Cash.com

  10. “Never have so many Americans had their privacy invaded to such a huge extent for such microscopic benefits. Politicians who, in the wake of 9/11, never had the idea that such measures were needed now tell us they are indispensable.”

    14 years is a generation.

    Generational change. Ultimately, that may be what we’re looking at.

    We have a substantial number of people who’ve grown up and become politically aware, now, who don’t remember 9/11. The world didn’t change for them after 9/11–it’s something they’ve always lived with, and that means it isn’t a reason to panic.

    I suppose that should be both comforting and troubling. It’s comforting to think that no matter how badly we panic in the future, eventually a younger generation will be born and mature that isn’t subject to the same panics that sent the last generations reeling.

    It’s troubling to think that once we panic, there may not be much hope of calming ourselves or each other down. The only hope may be suffering the panic for 14 years–and waiting for a new generation to grow up and become politically aware to save us from our old obsessions.

  11. So, section 215 is set to expire on June 1st, the USA Freedom Act just passed committee, and this morning I get an email at work stating that “the United States Northern Command raised the Force Protection Condition from Alpha to Bravo for all Department of Defense installations located in the U.S.”

    The timing seems a little suspicious. Just as the NSA may be about to lose their favorite “toy” US NORTHCOM raises the threat level. Perhaps the proles needed to be reminded that the National Security state is the only thing standing between them and hordes of barbarians?

    *adjusts tin-foil hat*

    1. Who’s standing between us and the barbarians in the National Security State?

      Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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    1. Liar!

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  14. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.www.netjob80.com

  15. Quiz:
    Our government votes to cut the size of government
    1) never
    2) never
    3) never

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