Surveillance

Will We See Real Surveillance Reform This Week?

The USA Freedom Act is about to sunset. Who will decide how and if it will be changed?

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By the end of the week, Congress is supposed to decide whether it will renew some federal surveillance regulations, reform them, or let them expire. Many legislators would probably prefer either to kick the can down the road with another temporary renewal or to pass a modest set of reforms. But several members of Congress are opposed to ketting the status quo continue—enough members, in fact, that we may well see reductions in the feds' power to secretly collect data about Americans without our knowledge, as well as more oversight over the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court.

The USA Freedom Act expires on Sunday. Passed after Edward Snowden exposed the ways the National Security Agency (NSA) was secretly collecting telephone and internet metadata of millions of Americans, the act both retroactively authorized the data collection and added some stricter rules to the process. Privacy and civil rights–focused lawmakers and activists have been trying since then to rein in domestic surveillance even further. Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) has been using his positive relationship with President Donald Trump—and the president's anger at the surveillance of his campaign, which ultimately led to a failed impeachment attempt—to push for reforms.

The Hill reported on Sunday that Paul is, as he has been in the past, the loudest voice stopping Congress from quietly keeping things the way they are:

Paul says he won't support a short-term extension and appeared skeptical that he would back a larger deal that paired a USA Freedom extension with reforms to FISA, though he added that he could support some of the surveillance reforms if they get standalone votes, as amendments, for example.

He's also pushing for an amendment vote to prohibit FISA warrants from being used against American citizens and to prohibit information obtained in the FISA courts from being used against a U.S. citizen in domestic courts.

"I'm not for any extension. I'm for fixing it….I'll vote no on any extension," Paul said.

He's not alone among Republicans in the Senate, and he's got plenty of support from Democrats in the House as well, to require that there be changes. Rep. Doug Collins (R–Ga.) went on Fox Business yesterday to say that there weren't enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Congress to reauthorize the USA Freedom Act unless there were reforms.

Reform-minded members of Congress aren't focused entirely on the same reforms. The Democrats want to make sure that the records collecting program is officially dead. (NSA has unofficially stopped doing it, but the authorization still exists.) Paul and some other Republicans are using the problems with the warrants used to wiretap former Trump aide Carter Page to call for more independent oversight to review and advise the FISA court on warrants. Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) prefer renewal without changes.

Nothing in these reforms is likely to have prevented what had happened with Page, since it's not the USA Freedom Act's authorities that were used to snoop on him. And based on the angry reaction of the FISA Court's judges when they found out the FBI had misled them in parts of the warrant application—and their decision to call for an independent reviewer—it's not clear additional oversight of the court itself would have stopped what happened with Page. The problems seemed to have originated from within the FBI itself.

But this is probably the only way to get Trump to care about restraining the use of secret surveillance on the rest of us. That is surely why Paul is hammering on about what happened to Page and Trump.

Paul's proposed reforms are probably a bridge too far to actually pass, but it's an admirable effort. Paul seems unlikely to be able to convince Congress to eliminate domestic FISA warrants entirely. But just as the USA Freedom Act was a compromise reform forced in part due to Paul's stubborn refusal to shut up about Americans' rights after Snowden's reveal, his prominent status in Trump World will guarantee that at least the broadest reforms will be considered.

But will they actually be debated? That's not so clear. There was already an aborted effort to attach reauthorization to a coronavirus emergency bill last week. With a deadline looming, there's sure to be an effort to roll reforms of some sort into other must-pass legislation. It's just not clear as yet how far those reforms will go.

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  1. I’ll believe it when I see it.

  2. But several members of Congress are opposed to ketting the status quo continue

    Reason needs to bring Tim Cavanaugh back for editing and style-guide tips.

  3. it’s not clear additional oversight of the court itself would have stopped what happened with Page

    Additional oversight by the court might have done some good, assuming the court does any oversight at all in the first place. I doubt the court was angry and embarrassed to find out they had been “tricked” by the FBI into issuing warrants based on bogus information, they were angry and embarrassed that it became public knowledge that they’re such a rubber stamp for the FBI that they’ll issue warrants no matter how bogus the information is. Start with holding these FBI agents signing bogus affidavits in contempt, demanding they be charged with perjury and filing false documents, throw them in jail for a year or two, then the next ones that come along asking for a warrant, remind them pointedly that there are penalties for seeking warrants based on bogus information. You’re supposed to be independent of the law enforcement agencies – that’s why it’s a Constitutional requirement that they must come to you for a warrant – maybe you should start acting like it, be a little skeptical and a little adversarial instead of so damn collegial. As long as there are no penalties on police and prosecutors for lying their asses off to the courts, why wouldn’t they lie?

  4. Noooooooooooo no no no nope!

    An article that is critical of a Democrat without taking a jab at Trump?

    Doesn’t exist.

    This article goes against the “Reason is a progressive rag that is never critical of Democrats and always critical of Trump” narrative put forth by the guy who gives Arizona a bad name, the guy who gives testicles a bad name, and the guy who masturbates with a tube of parchment.

    This article is a figment of the imagination. Nothing to see here.

    Move along.

    1. Hey lc, doesn’t that shit chafe? Your pee-pee must be a bloody stub.

    2. An article that is critical of a Democrat without taking a jab at Trump?

      This article is not critical of any Democrats. If you weren’t an illiterate bloated alcoholic middle aged suicide statistic waiting to happen you might have an easier time of reading comprehension, but being a perpetually inebriated sub-80 IQ halfwitting crayon eating cunt, we make allowance for you.

      By the way, remember the entire last 4 years when Rand Paul was a fake-libertarian neocon fuckface Trumpian? What ever happened to that? I mean, you’re all about principles right? And you agree with literally everything published by Reason unquestioningly, and anyone who doesn’t is a fake libertarian Trumpian, right? We all know that Amash is the REAL libertarian congresscritter and Rand Paul is a fundamentalist cunt who deserved to get beaten nearly to death by his deranged Democrat neighbor. It’s weird he’d be the one to champion these reforms, no?

    3. WAHHHHHHHHHH SOMEBODY CALLED ME ON MY MINDLESS MARXIST SHILLING 16 HOURS A DAY WHILE I SIT ON SOCIAL SECURITY DRUNK OFF MY ASS REGURGITATING CATO INSTITUTE TALKING POINTS!!!!!!!!! WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      It’s okay bro, you’ll be dead pretty soon and you won’t have to worry about those scary Trumpians under your bed anymore.

      1. Don’t get your hopes up.

    4. Guess you didn’t have anything relevant to say? The article is about modifying government surveillance, something we desperately need. Try to keep it on topic for once.

  5. And based on the angry reaction of the FISA Court’s judges when they found out the FBI had misled them in parts of the warrant application—and their decision to call for an independent reviewer—it’s not clear additional oversight of the court itself would have stopped what happened with Page.

    LOL. Yes, they were so furious that they appointed an Obama administration stooge to make sure that sort of thing never, ever happens again. How were they to know they were being lied to? Darn those government prosecutors and their deceptions!

  6. >>the president’s anger at the surveillance of his campaign, which ultimately led to a failed impeachment attempt

    this is a barely honest statement.

  7. Nope. Not this week. Not ever.

  8. Let’s see, Paul’s positive relationship with Trump (since he has proven himself a Trump and McConnell loyalist) is paying dividends as he pushes a bridge too far bill, ie, one bound to fail, which gains media attention (for Paul) as pro-liberty, despite imminent failure, leaving us with whatever was bound to result anyway, plus Paul remains a not-a-libertarian Trump and McConnell loyalist.
    Yep, I think I got it.
    Potomac fever, not corona, is the sickness our politicians get, and Paul has it bad.

  9. He’s not alone among Republicans in the Senate, and he’s got plenty of support from Democrats in the House as well

    — Its always good news to find out the Democrats aren’t entirely evil and will somehow (I think anyways) support something that limits the feds powers.

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  11. 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)

    Surely this applies to FBI agents who knowingly make false claims to a Judge when requesting warrants.

    If its good for the goose, its good for the gander.

  12. Not gonna happen. Enough of Congress have files with the FBI that they can be turned any direction the FBI needs.

  13. Call your congress-critter.

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