The good news — if you can call it that — is for the first time in 15 years a majority of federal lawmakers last week supported reducing the spying powers they allow the NSA to have on the very voters who elect them.
The bad news is those powers remain at levels unimaginable prior to 9/11.
The worst news? Most Americans apparently don’t care enough to do much more than shrug at the adoption June 2 of the USA Freedom Act.
Think about its very name for a moment. The USA Freedom Act is literally as much an oxymoron as its parallel predecessor — the Patriot Act. The USA Freedom Act still allows roving wiretaps, “lone wolf” surveillance authority, secret courts and other mass-spying tools granted to the National Security Agency under the Patriot Act, various executive orders and other legislation issued as far back as the 1970s.
Yet the latest change is labeled the USA Freedom Act — and heralded by all sides as an important victory for freedom — because it can claim one major victory: It no longer allows the NSA to collect Americans’ phone records and Internet metadata in bulk.
The act ends the practice of major cellphone and Internet providers routinely turning over to the NSA all their records of customers’ phone calls and Web use.
While the content of those communications was not provided to the NSA, the details about numbers called, locations, metadata, etc., clearly gave the government plenty of personal information.
Under the Freedom Act, the NSA still can access those records. First, though, it will have to get a warrant — from a secret court. While the court proceedings are not public, the Freedom Act does seek to shed at least a little light on the rulings of these secret courts established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
As The Washington Post reported, companies not only have more options to publicly report FISA requests, but court opinions considered significant are to be declassified, either in full or summary form.
Such reductions in NSA access and legal steps to provide more transparency in secret courts are why some privacy proponents are championing the Freedom Act as a big victory in the battle to stop our own government from spying on its citizens.
They are correct in that it is a victory.
Only time — and the level of apathy Americans show about being spied upon — will determine whether it’s big or small.
— St. Cloud Times, June 9