“The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”
— Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History
This is how freedom dies.
This is how you condition a populace to life as prisoners in a police state: by brainwashing them into believing they are free so that they will march in lockstep with the state and be incapable of recognizing the prison walls that surround them.
Face the facts: we are no longer free.
We in the American Police State may enjoy the illusion of freedom, but that is all it is: an elaborate deception, rooted in denial and delusion, that hides the grasping, greedy, power-hungry, megalomaniacal force that lurks beneath the surface.
Brick by brick, the prison walls being erected around us by the government and its corporate partners-in-crime grow more oppressive and more pervasive by the day.
Brick by brick, we are finding there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
Brick by brick, we are being walled in, locked down and locked up.
That’s the curious thing about walls: they not only keep those on the outside from getting in, they also keep those on the inside from getting out.
Consider, if you will, some of the “bricks” in the police state’s wall that serve to imprison the citizenry: Red flag gun laws that strip citizens of their rights based on the flimsiest of pretexts concocted by self-serving politicians. Overcriminalization resulting in jail time for nonviolent offenses such as feeding stray cats and buying foreign honey. Military training drills—showy exercises in armed intimidation—and live action “role playing” between soldiers and “freedom fighters” staged in small rural communities throughout the country. Profit-driven speed and red light cameras that do little for safety while padding the pockets of government agencies. Overt surveillance that turns citizens into suspects.
Police-run facial recognition software that mistakenly labels law-abiding citizens as criminals. Punitive programs that strip citizens of their passports and right to travel over unpaid taxes. Government agents that view segments of the populace as “subhuman” and treat them accordingly. A social credit system (similar to China’s) that rewards behavior deemed “acceptable” and punishes behavior the government and its corporate allies find offensive, illegal or inappropriate.
These are just a small sampling of the oppressive measures used by the government to control and constrict the American people.
What these despotic tactics add up to is an authoritarian prison in every sense of the word.
Granted this prison may not appear as overtly bleak as the soul-destroying gulags described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago, but that’s just a matter of aesthetics.
Strip away the surface embellishments and you’ll find the core is no less sinister than that of the gulags of the Cold War-era Soviet Union.
Those gulags, according to historian Anne Applebaum, used as a form of “administrative exile—which required no trial and no sentencing procedure—was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.”
The word “gulag” refers to a labor or concentration camp where prisoners (oftentimes political prisoners or so-called “enemies of the state,” real or imagined) were imprisoned as punishment for their crimes against the state. As Applebaum explains:
Over time, the word “Gulag” has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms and varieties: labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women’s camps, children’s camps, transit camps. Even more broadly, “Gulag” has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the “meat-grinder”: the arrests, the interrogations, the transport in unheated cattle cars, the forced labor, the destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was such a political prisoner.
For the crime of daring to criticize Stalin in a private letter to a school friend, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in exile in a labor camp.
That was before psychiatry paved the way for totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union to declare dissidents mentally ill and consign political prisoners to prisons disguised as psychiatric hospitals, where they could be isolated from the rest of society, their ideas discredited, and subjected to electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures to break them physically and mentally.
In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers. Author George Kennan describes a process in which:
The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years.
Warrantless seizures, surveillance, indefinite detention, isolation, exile… sound familiar?
The age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by making them disappear—or forcing them to flee—or exiling them literally or figuratively or virtually from their fellow citizens—is happening with increasing frequency in America.
We saw it happen with Julian Assange. With Edward Snowden. With Bradley Manning.
They, too, were exiled for daring to challenge the powers-that-be.
It happened to 26-year-old decorated Marine Brandon Raub, who was targeted because of his Facebook posts, interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.
Raub’s case exposed the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting Americans—especially military veterans—for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state.
Now, through the use of red flag laws, behavioral threat assessments, and pre-crime policing prevention programs, the government is laying the groundwork that would allow it to weaponize the label of mental illness as a means of exiling those whistleblowers, dissidents and freedom fighters who refuse to march in lockstep with its dictates.
That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) its critics is diabolically brilliant. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these individuals are declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.
These developments are merely the realization of various U.S. government initiatives dating back to 2009, including one dubbed Operation Vigilant Eagle which calls for surveillance of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”
Coupled with the report on “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” issued by the Department of Homeland Security (curiously enough, a Soviet term), which broadly defines rightwing extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government. Although these initiatives caused an initial uproar when announced in 2009, they were quickly subsumed by the ever-shifting cacophony of the news media and its ten-day cycles.
Yet while the American public may have forgotten about the government’s plans to identify and disable anyone deemed a potential “threat,” the government has put its plan into action.
Thus, what began as a blueprint under the Bush administration has become an operation manual under the Obama and Trump administrations to exile those who are challenging the government’s authority.
An important point to consider, however, is that the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is locking up individuals trained in military warfare who are voicing feelings of discontent.
Under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as ticking time bombs in need of intervention.
For instance, the Justice Department launched a pilot program aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.
One tactic being used to deal with so-called “mentally ill suspects who also happen to be trained in modern warfare” is through the use of civil commitment laws, found in all states and employed throughout American history to not only silence but cause dissidents to disappear.
For example, in 2006, NSA officials attempted to label former employee Russ Tice, who was willing to testify in Congress about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, as “mentally unbalanced” based upon two psychiatric evaluations ordered by his superiors.
In 2009, NYPD Officer Adrian Schoolcraft had his home raided, and he was handcuffed to a gurney and taken into emergency custody for an alleged psychiatric episode. It was later discovered by way of an internal investigation that his superiors were retaliating against him for reporting police misconduct. Schoolcraft spent six days in the mental facility, and as a further indignity, was presented with a bill for $7,185 upon his release.
In 2012, it was Virginia’s civil commitment law that was used to justify arresting and detaining Marine Brandon Raub—a 9/11 truther—in a psychiatric ward based on posts he had made on his Facebook page that were critical of the government.
Incredibly, in Virginia alone, over 20,000 people annually are forced into psychiatric wards by way of so-called Emergency Custody Orders and civil commitment procedures.
Each state has its own set of civil, or involuntary, commitment laws. These laws are extensions of two legal principles: parens patriae Parens patriae (Latin for “parent of the country”), which allows the government to intervene on behalf of citizens who cannot act in their own best interest, and police power, which requires a state to protect the interests of its citizens.
The fusion of these two principles, coupled with a shift towards a dangerousness standard, has resulted in a Nanny State mindset carried out with the militant force of the Police State.
The problem, of course, is that the diagnosis of mental illness, while a legitimate concern for some Americans, has over time become a convenient means by which the government and its corporate partners can penalize certain “unacceptable” social behaviors.
In fact, in recent years, we have witnessed the pathologizing of individuals who resist authority as suffering from oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), defined as “a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures.” Under such a definition, every activist of note throughout our history—from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr.—could be classified as suffering from an ODD mental disorder.
Of course, this is all part of a larger trend in American governance whereby dissent is criminalized and pathologized, and dissenters are censored, silenced, declared unfit for society, labelled dangerous or extremist, or turned into outcasts and exiled.
Red flag gun laws, growing in popularity as a legislative means by which to seize guns from individuals viewed as a danger to themselves or others, are a perfect example of this mindset at work. “We need to stop dangerous people before they act”: that’s the rationale behind the NRA’s support of these red flag laws, and at first glance, it appears to be perfectly reasonable to want to disarm individuals who are clearly suicidal and/or pose an “immediate danger” to themselves or others.
Where the problem arises, of course, is when you put the power to determine who is a potential danger in the hands of government agencies, the courts and the police.
Remember, this is the same government that uses the words “anti-government,” “extremist” and “terrorist” interchangeably.
This is the same government whose agents are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports using automated eyes and ears, social media, behavior sensing software, and citizen spies to identify potential threats.
This is the same government that keeps re-upping the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the military to detain American citizens with no access to friends, family or the courts if the government believes them to be a threat.
This is the same government that has a growing list—shared with fusion centers and law enforcement agencies—of ideologies, behaviors, affiliations and other characteristics that could flag someone as suspicious and result in their being labeled potential enemies of the state.
This is the same government that has, along with its corporate counterparts (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.), made it abundantly clear at all levels (whether it be the FBI, NSA, local police, school personnel, etc.) that they want no one challenging their authority.
This is a government that pays lip service to the nation’s freedom principles while working overtime to shred the Constitution.
Yes, this is a prison alright.
Thus, for those who take to the streets to constitutionally express their opinions and beliefs, rows of riot police, clad in jackboots, military vests, and helmets, holding batons, stun guns, assault rifles, and sometimes even grenade launchers, are there to keep them in line.
For those who take to social media to express their opinions and beliefs, squadrons of AI censors are there to shadowban them and keep them in line.
As for that wall President Trump keeps promising to build, it’s already being built, one tyranny at a time, transforming our constitutional republic into a carceral state.
Yet be warned: in a carceral state, there are only two kinds of people: the prisoners and the prison guards.
In a carceral state—a.k.a. a prison state or a police state—there is no difference between the treatment meted out to a law-abiding citizen and a convicted felon: both are equally suspect and treated as criminals, without any of the special rights and privileges reserved for the governing elite.
With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people”—the prisoners of the American police state—are being pushed that much further into a corner, our backs against the prison wall.
This concept of a carceral state in which we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis is the only way I can begin to comprehend, let alone articulate, the irrational, surreal, topsy-turvy, through-the-looking-glass state of affairs that is being imposed upon us in America today.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we who pretend we are free are no different from those who spend their lives behind bars.
You see, by gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.
Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants. We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”
Under the new terms of this revised, one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the prisoners” have none.
June 2, 2015
Contact: Evan Greer
Major sections of the Patriot Act expired on June 1, 2015, in line with the public sentiment. Yet Congress moves to revive the mass surveillance powers.
On Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 67 US Senators voted to give the government back its legislative justification for executing mass surveillance on the phone calls of all Americans.
Each member of the Senate who voted for the USA Freedom Act will now be on record for re-instating—with full knowledge of its illegal usage—a piece of the largest scale violation of the US Constitution in America’s history. They will carry that failure into the next elections, and through the rest of their political careers.
“The public wants a complete end to mass suspicionless surveillance, not more government deception and doublespeak. Sunsetting the Patriot Act was a step toward the major structural changes we need to restore privacy, and now Congress is taking a giant leap in the wrong direction with the USA Freedom Act, which revives one of the most badly abused pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It’s enough to make even the most trusting citizens question the intentions of their government.”
“We have made it clear to the world these programs are useless and need to end. What we did was change the conversation from should we end mass surveillance to how? The answers Congress is coming up with so far, like the faux reform USA Freedom Act, are wrong and dangerous. But at least the public has forced them to start asking the right questions" Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future.
“The sunset of the Patriot Act provisions marks a historic moment that–for the past 13 years until just weeks ago–was unthinkable. It happened because of massive public pressure to see these programs end, and because a few senators, including Senator Paul, had the courage to actually listen to the public, and to take a stand for their own principles and the principles embodied in the Constitution. By passing USA Freedom Congress just threw that victory away. But for a brief moment, if the administration was in fact following the law, Americans were able to call their loved ones without the government tracking them.That alone is worth celebrating, but now Congress is moving to take that freedom away once again,” Holmes Wilson, co-founder of Fight for the Future.
In the weeks leading up to the expiration deadline for Section 215 of the PATRIOT ACT, polls were released which showed the public’s opposition to the government’s surveillance of U.S. citizens. In addition, a report from the Department of Justice identified these programs as ineffective for counter-terrorism. The public also organized against these programs, sending hundreds of thousands of emails and calls to Congress, organizing 40+ vigils at senators’ district offices, blacking out Congress’ access to tens of thousands of websites, and coordinating letter drop-offs at lawmakers’ district offices.
Fight for the Future and dozens of other groups have vowed to continue the fight to end mass government surveillance, working toward a full repeal of the Patriot Act, FISA Amendments Act, and other structural changes needed to restore our basic human right to communicate privately and express ourselves freely. Fight for the Future will continue its work to spread easy-to-use, strong encryption tools through campaigns like Reset the Net, to protect people everywhere from rogue government programs, like those reauthorized today.
“Thanks to Edward Snowden and the free and open Internet, the global public is more aware than ever before of the U.S. government’s abusive spying operations. The members of Congress who just voted to reauthorize and expand these programs will soon learn that the Internet-using public is not easily fooled, and we will not forget the names of the politicians who raised their hands and voted to take away our freedoms mere moments after we had restored them,” concluded Greer.
The USA Freedom Act passed the Senate today and heads to Obama’s desk where he has vowed to sign it:
FOX NEWS – The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to legislation that would restart — but also overhaul — controversial government surveillance programs that went dark over the weekend after lawmakers missed a key deadline.
In a 67-32 vote, the chamber approved the so-called USA Freedom Act. The legislation, which already won approval in the House, now goes to President Obama’s desk.
The vote comes after key surveillance programs — most notably, the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records — were suspended Sunday after Congress missed the deadline for reauthorization.
The passage of the USA Freedom Act means several changes are in store, particularly for that NSA program. Obama and a cross-section of Republican and Democratic lawmakers supported the legislation.
Others, including Senate Majority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., were opposed. McConnell, ahead of the final vote, argued that the civil liberties concerns were overstated and warned that the legislation “undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war-fighters.”
The USA Freedom Act would:
- Resume the NSA data collection program, but only for a transition period of six months. After that, the legislation would no longer allow the NSA to sweep up Americans’ records in bulk. Instead, it would leave the records with phone companies and give the government the ability to seek access with a warrant.
- Continue other post-9/11 surveillance provisions that also lapsed Sunday night. These include the FBI’s authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations and to more easily eavesdrop on suspects who are discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance.
- Create a panel to provide the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court with guidance on privacy and civil liberties matters.
- Increase transparency for the surveillance court’s decisions.
Before the vote on final passage, McConnell offered several amendments. Had any of them passed, the altered bill would have had to return to the House, where GOP leaders warned that any changes could sink the bill’s prospects.
But none of the amendments garnered enough support, and the bill can now go to the White House unchanged. Obama is expected to sign it.
I’ll post the roll-call vote when it becomes available.
UPDATE: Below is the roll call vote:
Grouped By Vote Position
|Not Voting – 1
Read more: http://therightscoop.com/usa-freedom-act-passes-the-senate-heads-to-obama-desk-for-approval/#ixzz3c4XDEHEm
USA Freedom Act
The USA Freedom Act is a law which was originally introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress on October 29, 2013. Following the expiration of several provisions of the Patriot Act, the act was passed on June 2, 2015. The title of the act is a ten-letter backronym (USA FREEDOM) that stands for "Uniting and StrengtheningAmerica by Fulfilling Rights and EndingEavesdropping, Dragnet-collection andOnline Monitoring Act."
When the bill was re-introduced in the 114th Congress (2015-2016), it was described by the bill sponsors as "a balanced approach" while being questioned for extending the Patriot Act through the end of 2019. Supporters of the bill said that the House Intelligence Committee and House leadership would insist on reauthorizing all Patriot Act powers except bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Critics assert that mass surveillance of the content of Americans' communication will continue under Section 702 of FISA which does not expire until 2017 and Executive Order 12333 due to the "unstoppable surveillance-industrial complex" despite the fact that a bipartisan majority of the House had previously voted to close backdoor mass surveillance.
Section 215 bulk collection authority expired June 1, 2015, but in the event that the Obama administration is successful in restarting it, USA Freedom enacts a ban on such collection activities which “shall take effect on the date that is 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act”.
According to supporters of the USA Freedom Act, the USA Freedom Act was meant to end the bulk collection of Americans' metadata by the NSA, end the secret laws created by the FISA court, and introduce a "Special Advocate" to represent public and privacy matters. However, opponents to the bill cite that the USA Freedom Act does allow the bulk collection of Americans' metadata by phone companies, which is then accessible by the NSA; it also does not address other laws which have purportedly challenged Americans' Fourth Amendment rights. Other proposed changes included limits to programs like PRISM, which retains Americans' Internet data, and greater transparency by allowing companies such as Google andFacebook to disclose information about government requests for information.
The House version, introduced by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner as HR 3361, was referred to the United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations January 9, 2014, and the Senate version, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. An amended version out of the House Judiciary Committee contained many provisions raising concerns among civil libertarians including an extension of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act through the end of 2017. After considering the bill throughout 2014, the Senate voted on November 18, 2014, to end further discussion of the measure during the 113th United States Congress.
The bill comprised several titles: FISA business records reforms, FISA pen register and trap and trace device reforms, FISA acquisitions targeting persons outside the United States reforms, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reforms, Office of the Special Advocate, National Security Letterreforms, FISA and National Security Letter transparency reforms, and Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board subpoena authority.
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the bill, stated that its purpose was:
According to the bill's sponsors, their legislation would have amended Section 215 of the Patriot Act to ensure that any phone records obtained by the government were essential in an investigation that involved terrorism or espionage, thereby ending bulk collection, while preserving "the intelligence community's ability to gather information in a more focused way."
Many members of Congress believed that in the wake of the Snowden disclosures, restoration of public trust would require legislative changes. More than 20 bills have been written since the disclosures began with the goal of clarifying government surveillance powers.
Sensenbrenner, who introduced the USA PATRIOT Act (H.R. 3162) in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks to give more power to US intelligence agencies, and who has described himself as "author of the Patriot Act," declared that it was time to put the NSA's "metadata program out of business." With its bulk collection of Americans' phone data, Sensenbrenner asserted that the intelligence community "misused those powers," had gone "far beyond" the original intent of the legislation, and had "overstepped its authority."
An opinion piece by Leahy and Sensenbrenner, published in Politico, described the impetus for proposed changes, saying:
In May 2014, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee posted a "Manager's Amendment" on its website. Title VII of the Amendment read "Section 102(b)(1) of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (50 U.S.C. 1805 note) is amended by striking "June 1, 2015" and inserting "December 31, 2017," extending the controversial USA PATRIOT Act through the end of 2017. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has criticized the Patriot Act as unconstitutional, especially when "the private communications of law-abiding American citizens might be intercepted incidentally". James Dempsey, of the CDT, believes that the Patriot Act unnecessarily overlooks the importance of notice under the Fourth Amendment and under a Title III wiretap, while the American Library Association became so concerned that they formed a resolution condemning the USA PATRIOT Act, and which urged members to defend free speech and protect patrons' privacy against the Act.
The Guardian wrote "civil libertarians on the Judiciary Committee had to compromise in order to gain support for the act. Significantly, the government will still be able to collect phone data on Americans, pending a judge’s individualized order based on 'reasonable articulable suspicion' – a standard preferred by the NSA – of wrongdoing, and can collect call records two degrees or 'hops' of separation from the individual suspected." Kara Brandeisky of ProPublica said, "some worry that the bill does not unequivocally ban bulk collection of American records. Again, a lot depends on how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court interprets the statute."
The National Journal wrote "one tech lobbyist noted concern that a provision that would have allowed companies to disclose to customers more information about government data requests has been dropped. In addition, an external special advocate that would oversee the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would no longer be selected by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Instead, the court's judges would designate five 'amicus curiae' who possess appropriate security clearances."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stated it remained "concerned that this bill omits important transparency provisions found in the (original 2013) USA FREEDOM Act, which are necessary to shed light on surveillance abuses". In addition, the EFF said it believed "this bill should do more to addressmass surveillance under Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, a section of law used to collect the communications of users worldwide." The Open Technology Institutecommented "several other key reforms—such as provisions allowing Internet and phone companies to publish more information about the demands they receive, which OTI and a coalition of companies and organizations have been pressing for since last summer—have been removed, while the bill also provides for a new type of court order that the President has requested, allowing for continuous collection by the government of specified telephone records."
Despite the criticism from civil liberties groups, Mike Rogers, a defender of the NSA's surveillance practices and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, praised the amendments. Rogers, who had his own bill which would codify the NSA's surveillance practices in to law, called the proposed amendments a "huge improvement." Foreign Policy wrote "any compromise to the Judiciary bill risks an insurrection from civil libertarians in Congress. Michigan Republican Justin Amash led such a revolt last year when he offered an NSA amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would have stripped funding for the NSA's collection program." "Just a weakened bill or worse than status quo? I'll find out," Representative Amash said.
After the marked up bill passed the House Judiciary Committee USA Freedom Act co-author and Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy commented that he "remain concerned that the legislation approved today does not include some of the important reforms related to national security letters, a strong special advocate at the FISA Court, and greater transparency. I will continue to push for those reforms when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA Freedom Act this summer."
The House of Representatives passed on May 22, 2014 the USA Freedom act by 303 votes to 121.Because the House version was weakened by lawmakers loyal to the intelligence establishment it lost support of important House Judiciary members like Republicans Darrell Issa, Ted Poe and Raul Labrador and Democrat Zoe Lofgren who previously voted for the act. "The result is a bill that will actually not end bulk collection, regrettably," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren who voted against the bill. The act would shift responsibility for retaining telephonic metadata from the government to telephone companies. Providers like AT&T and Verizon would be required to maintain the records and let the NSA search them in terrorism investigations when the agency obtains a judicial order or in certain emergency situations. The USA Freedom Act demands that the NSA get approval for a search from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before demanding that the telecoms hand over metadata. However, no "probable-cause" Fourth Amendment standard is required to access the database. While an allowable search under the original USA Freedom Act was defined as "a term used to uniquely describe a person, entity, or account", but under the House version a database search inquiry is now allowed if it is "a discrete term, such as a term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device. Provisions that were dropped from the bill included requirements to estimate the number of Americans whose records were captured under the program, and the creation of a public advocate to challenge the government's legal arguments before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The passed House version was criticised by U.S. senators, tech firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, as well as civil liberties groups. Senator Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and lead Democratic author of the Freedom Act, criticized the House version by saying in a statement: "Today’s action in the House continues the bipartisan effort to restore Americans’ civil liberties. But I was disappointed that the legislation passed today does not include some of the meaningful reforms contained in the original USA Freedom Act. I will continue to push for these important reforms when the Senate judiciary committee considers the USA Freedom Act next month.” And Senator Ron Wyden stated he was "gravely concerned that the changes that have been made to the House version of this bill have watered it down so far that it fails to protect Americans from suspicionless mass surveillance." Major U.S. tech firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter joined together in the Reform Government Surveillance coalition which called the House version a move in the wrong direction. The Reform Government Surveillance released a statement on June 5, stating: “The latest draft opens up an unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of Internet users’ data … While it makes important progress, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted and urge Congress to close this loophole to ensure meaningful reform.” Mark Jaycox, a legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said: “The bill is littered with loopholes. The problem right now, especially after multiple revisions, is that it doesn’t effectively end mass surveillance.” Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s security and human rights program, accusing the House for failing to deliver serious surveillance reform said: “People inside and outside the U.S. would remain at risk of dragnet surveillance. The Senate should pass much stronger reforms ensuring greater transparency, robust judicial review, equal rights for non-U.S. persons, and a clear, unambiguous ban on mass spying. President Obama need not wait. He can and should implement such safeguards today.” The White House however endorsed the bill. “The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 3361, the USA Freedom Act. … The Administration applauds and appreciates the strong bipartisan effort that led to the formulation of this bill, which heeds the President’s call on this important issue,” the White House said in a statement. The bill ensures our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the authorities they need to protect the Nation, while further ensuring that individuals’ privacy is appropriately protected when these authorities are employed. Among other provisions, the bill prohibits bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers, and National Security Letters."
Civil rights groups and scholars said the new language allowing the NSA to search meta data handed over from telephone companies was vague and perhaps would allow the NSA to ensnare the metadata of broad swaths of innocent people in violation of their constitutional rights. “In particular, while the previous bill would have required any request for records to be tied to a clearly defined set of ‘specific selection terms,’ the bill that just passed leaves the definition of 'specific selection terms' open. This could allow for an overly broad and creative interpretation, which is something we've certainly seen from the executive branch and the FISA Court before," said Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program. “The new definition is incredibly more expansive than previous definitions … The new version not only adds the undefined words “address” and “device,” but makes the list of potential selection terms open-ended by using the term “such as.” Congress has been clear that it wishes to end bulk collection, but given the government’s history of twisted legal interpretations, this language can’t be relied on to protect our freedoms,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a press release.
Negotiations among intelligence agencies, the White House, lawmakers and their aides, and privacy advocates in the summer of 2014 led to a modified bill (S. S.2685) in the U.S. Senate. This bill version addressed most privacy concerns regarding the NSA program that collects records of Americans’ phone calls in bulk and other issues.
Under the bill the NSA would no longer collect those phone records. Instead, most of the records would have stayed in the hands of the phone companies, which would not have been required to hold them any longer than they already do for normal business purposes, which in some cases is 18 months. The bill would require the NSA to request specific data from phone companies under specified limits i.e. the NSA would need to show it had reasonable, articulable suspicion that the number it is interested in is tied to a foreign terrorist organization or individual. The proposed legislation would still have allowed analysts to perform so-called contact chaining in which they trace a suspect’s network of acquaintances, but they would been required to use a new kind of court order to swiftly obtain only those records that were linked, up to two layers away, to a suspect — even when held by different phone companies. It would also require the federal surveillance court to appoint a panel of public advocates to advance legal positions in support of privacy and civil liberties, and would expand company reporting to the public on the scope of government requests for customers’ data. This USA Freedom Act version thus gained the support of the Obama Administration, including the director of national intelligence and attorney general, as well as many tech companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo as well as a diverse range of groups, including the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Following the 2014 Congressional elections, the Senate voted on November 18, 2014, to block further debate of the measure during the 113th United States Congress. Fifty-four Democrats and four Republicans who supported consideration failed to muster the 60 votes required. Senator Patrick Leahy, who drafted the bill, blamed its defeat on what he called fear-mongering by opponents, saying, "Fomenting fear stifles serious debate and constructive solutions." Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, argued that the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' metadata was a vital tool in the fight against terrorism. "This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs," he said.
The USA Freedom Act was re-introduced in the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee in late April 2015 based upon a modified version of the one which failed in the Senate in the 113th Congress.
The 2015 USA Freedom Act version is described by its sponsors as "a balanced approach that would ensure the NSA maintains an ability to obtain the data it needs to detect terrorist plots without infringing on Americans’ right to privacy. Human rights groups believed the bill’s transparency and court oversight provisions are less robust than would have been required in a previous version of the bill, with more limited reporting requirements and a more narrowly defined role for external court advocates.
The bill received a mixture of reaction, ranging from support from national security and computer trade groups, skepticism or moderate objection from civil liberties groups, to outright opposition from former NSA whistle blowers. The editorial board of the New York Times ran an editorial against the bill which "will be weakened further in the Senate by the majority leader" and advised readers to "get used to the protections of your civil liberties being minimally viable".
The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on April 30, 2015. The proposed bill would end the NSA’s bulk collection under Section 215 by requiring the government to seek records from companies using a “specific selection term” that identifies a specific person, account or address and “is used to limit . . . the scope” of records sought. The term may not be a phone or Internet company.
Amendments to strengthen the bill were voted down during Committee markup. One would have offered a constitutional advocate and failed by voice vote, while another would have offered protection for whistle blower complaints. Representative Jordan unsuccessfully argued for another amendment with the following dialog, "It’s not a vote to blow up the deal. It’s a vote for the Fourth Amendment. Plain and simple. All the Gentleman says in his amendment is, if you’re going to get information from an American citizen, you need a warrant." The bill ultimately received 25 votes in support (64%), 12 abstentions (31%), and 2 in opposition (5%).
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte said "the USA Freedom Act reforms our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs to ensure they operate in a manner that reflects core American values ... We urge both the House and Senate to move expeditiously on this legislation so that we rein in government overreach and rebuild trust with the American people".
Representative Ted Poe was one member to vote against the bill. "Between the Committee vote and the House floor the bill was changed and it now confused what should have been clarified. The version of the USA Freedom Act that passed the House today leaves room for different interpretations, potentially giving NSA the ability to continue to act outside the intent of Congress and the Constitution. I could not support a bill that may allow abuses of the fourth amendment to continue,” he said.
The Center for National Security supports the USA Freedom Act introduced on April 28, 2015 to end bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata under the so-called “section 215” program.
The Software Alliance sponsored the legislation saying “in reforming government surveillance practices, it is critical that legislation strikes the right balance between securing our nation and its citizens and improving privacy protections for the public. The FISA reforms in the USA FREEDOM Act will help restore trust in both the US government and the US technology sector.”
The ITIC said "the USA Freedom Act, H.R. 2048, builds on the foundation laid by the House Judiciary Committee last Congress and the result is a bill that strengthens privacy protections while maintaining the interests of national security."
The final USA Freedom Act is perceived as containing several concessions to pro-surveillance legislators meant to facilitate its passage. The watered down version of the USA Freedom Act that passed the House of Representatives in 2015 has been widely criticized by civil liberties advocates and its original supporters amongst house members for extending the Patriot Act Mass surveillance programs without meaningful restraints, undermining the original purpose of the bill.
"This bill would make only incremental improvements, and at least one provision-the material-support provision-would represent a significant step backwards," ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement. "The disclosures of the last two years make clear that we need wholesale reform." Jaffer wants Congress to let Section 215 sunset completely and wait for a better reform package than endorse something half-baked, saying that "unless that bill is strengthened, sunset would be the better course." The ACLU had previously written of the 2013 version that "although the USA Freedom Act does not fix every problem with the government's surveillance authorities and programs, it is an important first step and it deserves broad support."
Representative Justin Amash, author of the narrowly defeated Amash Amendment, a proposal that would have de-funded the NSA bulk-collection program, backed the 2013 legislation, but not the final 2015 version. "It's getting out of control," he commented. "[Courts are issuing] general warrants without specific cause...and you have one agency that's essentially having superpowers to pass information onto others".
According to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, even if the Freedom Act becomes law, the NSA could continue its bulk collection of American's phone records. He explained that "it's going to depend on how the [FISA] court interprets any number of the provisions" contained within the legislation. Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties at Stanford Law School, stated:
International human rights groups remain somewhat skeptical of specific provisions of the bill. For example, Human Rights Watch expressed its concern that the "bill would do little to increase protections for the right to privacy for people outside the United States, a key problem that plagues U.S. surveillance activities. Nor would the bill address mass surveillance or bulk collection practices that may be occurring under other laws or regulations, such as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act orExecutive Order 12333. These practices affect many more people and include the collection of the actual content of internet communications and phone calls, not just metadata". Zeke Johnson, Director of Amnesty International's Security and Human Rights Program, agreed that "any proposal that fails to ban mass surveillance, end blanket secrecy, or stop discrimination against people outside the U.S. will be a false fix".
Members of the anti-surveillance Civil Liberties Coalition are dismissing the USA Freedom Act in support of the Surveillance State Repeal Act, a far more comprehensive piece of legislation in the House that completely repeals the Patriot Act, as well as 2008's FISA Amendments Act. A group of 60 organizations called Congress to not stop at ending the NSA's bulk collection of telephone information under the USA PATRIOT Act, but to also end the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333 mass surveillance programs and restore accountability for bad actors in the Intelligence Community.
The Center for Democracy and Technology endorses the bill, but it points out that it doesn't limit data retention for information collected on people who turn out to have no connection to a suspect or target, and emphasizes that this is not an omnibus solution. The group argued the bill had to be supported because "the Senate will weaken the USA FREEDOM Act right before the sunset deadline, forcing the House to accept a weaker bill".
“This bill purports to ban certain acts under narrow authorities, but it doesn’t ban those behaviors outright. Nor does it increase meaningful oversight of the NSA," said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, who wants Section 215 to expire. The group said "a vote for a bill that does not end mass surveillance is a vote in support of mass surveillance."
"Companies are provided monetary incentive to spy and share that information with the government and blanket liability once they do under USA Freedom -- even if that breaks that law," said Sascha Meinrath, the director of X-lab, an independent tech policy institute previously associated with New America. "Once companies receive that, they'll have almost no reason to weigh in on meaningful surveillance reform." "In a way, it's kind of like PRISM," the program revealed by Snowden where major tech companies turned over the content of online communications to the NSA, said longtime independent surveillance researcher Marcy Wheeler. "It pushes things to providers: Everyone gets immunity, but it doesn't add to the privacy.
“We think of the USA Freedom Act as yesterday’s news,” said Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, “and we’re interested in forcing the [intelligence] agencies into a future where they comply with constitutional limits.” “If passed, it’ll be the only step,” predicted Patrick Eddington of the Cato Institute, a former House staffer, since the next expiration date for a major piece of surveillance legislation is 31 December 2017.
Following the law's passage on June 2, 2015, ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer claimed that "This is the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978, and its passage is an indication that Americans are no longer willing to give the intelligence agencies a blank check.
Former NSA crypto-mathematician William Binney, who worked three decades at the agency, says the Freedom Act – widely seen as having the best chance of any surveillance-limiting proposal – “won’t do anything” if it passes. “Why do you think NSA [and other intelligence agencies] support it?” he says.
Drake, a former NSA senior executive prosecuted unsuccessfully under the Espionage Act before pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in 2011, calls the bill the “Free-dumb Act 2.0,” and says he sees it as a ploy by government officials “to keep the status quo in place.” He also says the fixation on the call record program in public debate is unfortunate, because NSA Internet surveillance is far broader and more invasive. “It’s a shiny, shiny bright spot, [but] there’s a whole lot more being collected,” he says, including a “staggering” amount of American communications. Drake believes support from the Obama administration for the Freedom Act is motivated in part by a desire to hobble lawsuits against the call record program, three of which are pending with appeals courts and may lay the groundwork for a major Supreme Court privacy ruling.
Wiebe, formerly a senior analyst at the NSA, says the anticipated Freedom Act likely will be “more of the same” and is “not going to change anything” in a meaningful way. Like Drake, he has no hope for meaningful reform and doesn’t believe efforts to lobby Congress would work. “We’ve tried,” he says. “It makes no difference.” He believes well-funded government contractors and powerful, “co-opted” lawmakers who lead key committees make up a virtually unstoppable surveillance-industrial complex.
The USA Freedom Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on May 13, 2015. The bill received broad support in the House, with 338 votes for the bill and 88 against it. It was passed without any amendments to the House Judiciary version because the House Rules Committee prohibited consideration of any amendment to the USA Freedom Act, claiming that any changes to the legislation would have weakened its chances of passage. The bill had the support of the White House, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. While civil liberties groups were divided over the support of the bill, lawmakers opposed to the Bill stated it will handicap the NSA and allow terrorist groups to prosper.
The USA Freedom Act was not passed by the U.S. Senate on May 22, 2015. By a vote of 57-42, the Senate did not pass the bill that would have required 60 votes to move forward, which means that the NSA must start winding down its domestic mass surveillance program this week. The Senate also rejected, by 54-45, also short of the necessary 60 votes, a two-month extension for the key provision in the Patriot Act that has been used to justify NSA spying, which is set to expire on June 1, 2015.
However, on May 31, 2015, the Senate voted 77-17 to limit debate on the act. Senate rules will allow it to be passed after the mass surveillance programs have expired. Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had three amendments he planned to offer to the bill which were likely to further increase opposition to the bill. While several amendments which would strengthen the bill were not allowed to be considered, three amendments proposed by chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr to weaken the bill, considered "poison pills", were allowed to be considered but ultimately rejected.
The bill ultimately passed the Senate 67-32 on June 2, 2015 and reinstated three lapsed authorities i.e. the "Section 215" authorty, the "lone wolf" authority and the "roving wiretaps" authority of the Patriot Act, while reforming the the "Section 215" authority. It was signed into law at the same day by US President Barack Obama."After a needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities, my administration will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country," Obama said.