A bill that would curtail the government’s massive domestic spying apparatus failed to advance in the Senate, garnering only 58 of the 60 votes needed.
The bill, the USA Freedom Act, would reform some of the government’s surveillance operations leaked to the public by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The NSA would be prohibited from the sweeping collection of the cell phone metadata of American citizens and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) would also have greater transparency. Under the Freedom Act, the FISA Court would allow the appointment of a “public advocate” who would be present for all hearings. As of now, the court hears no opposition to the government’s requests for surveillance warrants.
The New York Times characterized the bill’s failure to move forward as a “Republican Block” but at least one Republican senator, Rand Paul, didn’t vote to move the bill forward because it “didn’t go far enough.” Paul also said he voted against the bill because it would have extended the Patriot act provision that allows the NSA to search phone records.
While Paul said he “felt bad” that the bill failed, because it “probably needed my vote,” he also claimed the country was “one step closer to restoring civil liberties,” because the Patriot Act provision’s expiration date will not be extended.
But some in the civil liberties crowd like the EFF and the ACLU, thought the bill was a good start. On the other side, the bill was also supported by snooper extraordinaire Attorney General Eric Holder and lying Director of Intelligence James Clapper.
Former Attorney General Mike Mukasey and Former Director of the CIA Michael Hayden took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to make their case against the bill, citing the same national security concerns as many GOP senators who voted against the bill. Mukasey and Hayden describe the bill as “major new bill exquisitely crafted to hobble the gathering of electronic intelligence.”
For the sake of argument, domestic spying didn’t do a whole lot of good to prevent the Boston Marathon Bombing. Not only did the Tsarnaev brothers escape digital detection, federal law enforcement agencies were tipped off by another country that these guys had ties to radical Islamic terrorists in Chechnya but a local investigation found nothing to be concerned about.
Another late breaking development with the bill was notable: the the shifty matter of Majority Leader Harry Reid slapping the bill with a controversial part of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Mike Masnick over at Techdirt discovered not only that Reid had plans to attach part of SOPA to the bill, but that Reid was very cozy with interests that would benefit from passing that SOPA provision. The provision in SOPA Reid wanted to include was the felony streaming provision, which would turn the act of streaming infringing works into a felony.
Masnick explains, “So why is Reid suddenly doing this? What we’ve heard is that it’s a “favor” to his friends at UFC — Ultimate Fighting Championship — who are based in Las Vegas, in Reid’s home state of Nevada. Reid and UFC go back for years, with UFC being big supporters of Reid, and UFC has worked with Reid on a number of campaigns. UFC has also been one of the biggest supporters of expanding and abusing copyright law for years. The organization has sued its biggest fans, has sued streaming sites like Justin.tv (and lost) and even claimed copyright on videos it has no rights to, taken by fans.”
The next milestone on the NSA reform agenda will be May of 2015, when the Patriot Act will expire.