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Mitch McConnell's Surreal Quest to Preserve the NSA's Illegal Surveillance

May 13, 2015 in Economics

By Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez

The USA Freedom Act, a modest but significant surveillance reform bill, is set to pass the House of Representatives by a large margin today. Yet the law still faces an uphill battle in the Senate, thanks largely to the intransigence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is plowing ahead with a plan to reauthorize controversial provisions of the Patriot Act — including the authority behind NSA’s massive telephone records database. And in the wake of a recent federal appeals court decision holding that program unlawful, McConnell’s stubborn opposition to reform has gone from misguided to downright illogical, even on McConnell’s own terms.

When former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed, nearly two years ago, that the spy agency had been indiscriminately vacuuming up the telephone records of millions of Americans, legal experts were stunned at the audacious legal justification the government offered for the program.

A provision of the Patriot Act, known as section 215, empowers the FBI to obtain business records that are “relevant” to an authorized national security investigation. But the government had secretly convinced a court to interpret this power in a shockingly broad way: Everyone’s telephone records, the feds argued, could be “relevant” to counterterrorism investigations, because having the entire database would make it easier to search for the tiny fraction of phone records that were truly related to a given investigation.

McConnell’s arguments put him at odds with the leadership of the intelligence community.”

Even one of the Patriot Act’s authors, Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, denounced the program as a “gross invasion of privacy” that went far beyond what Congress had intended to authorize.

The looming expiration of section 215, which will sunset at the end of the month unless reauthorized, has set the stage for a struggle between two camps. On one side is a broad, bipartisan coalition of legislators, civil liberties groups, and technology companies backing the USA Freedom Act, reform legislation set for a vote in the House of Representatives next week. The law would bar the use of several related spying authorities, including 215, for indiscriminate “bulk” data collection, and impose new transparency requirements to ensure that no court could again expand spying powers behind a veil of secrecy.

On the other side is a camp led by Mitch McConnell, who has proposed legislation extending the government’s spying powers without any new limitations or safeguards.

Even before Thursday, McConnell’s case against …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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