Trevor Timm writes: In just over two weeks, the bill known as the USA Freedom Act – formerly the best chance to pass meaningful NSA reform in Congress – has gone from strong, to weak, to horrible. So naturally, after months of stalling the once-promising bill, the House of Representatives rushed to pass a gutted version on Thursday.
Now that the bill has passed, the NSA’s biggest supporters will surely line up to call this legislation “reform” so they can go back to their angry constituents and pretend they did something about mass surveillance, while really just leaving the door open for it to continue. But the bill is still a long way from the president’s desk. If the Senate refuses to pass a strengthened version of the USA Freedom Act this summer, reformers should consider what 24 hours ago was unthinkable: abandon the bill and force Section 215 of the Patriot Act to expire once and for all in 2015. Because it’s one thing to pass a weak bill, but it’s entirely another to pass off smoke and mirrors as progress.
It really is astonishing to look at how abruptly this legislation has been warped. All the major civil liberties organizations dropped their support for the USA Freedom Act as soon as the new version – re-written in secret at the last minute, with help from the NSA’s lawyers and the Obama administration – was made public on Tuesday. The privacy groups’ withdrawal was followed quickly by the major tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. But that apparently doesn’t matter to the White House or Congressional leadership, who barred amendments that could have potentially strengthened the bill from being offered on the floor ahead of Thursday’s vote. [Continue reading…]