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After NSA Killed Diplomacy, USA FREEDOM Act Proposes Reforms

By William Peacock, Esq. on October 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Q: How do you get two of the most ardent supporters of a surveillance state to reverse course?

A: Grant blanket powers to a government agency and act surprised when they surveil 36 world leaders.

Over the last few months, we've seen reform proposals come from Congressional leaders, such as a bill backed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Rand Paul (R-KY). The biggest opposition came from Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who proposed a series of mild reforms and argued that NSA data collection was a necessary evil.

Now, she's joining the reform bandwagon, and calling for a reexamination of all intelligence programs in light of the news that we've been spying on such terrorist hotbeds as France, Spain, Mexico, and Germany. Apparently, once NSA surveillance expands from ordinary Americans to European politicians, it becomes a problem. Joining her on the change-of-heart bandwagon is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), also known as the primary sponsor of the USA PATRIOT Act, which authorized this whole mess.

So, This is Awkward ...

Can you imagine the conversations that will happen the next UN shindig?

"Oh hey. Sorry about that whole listening to your conversations thing. Totes didn't know about the NSA overreaching. BTW, you were totally right when you told your sister that France's ambassador is a total creep. Not that I was listening or anything."

We kid, but this week's revelations really do mandate reform. Until now, proponents of the status quo, such as Sen. Feinstein, argues that the NSA's actions were necessary to track and find terrorists.

But when the agency starts eavesdropping on the Chancellor of Germany and other allies, that's when the entire argument goes into the trash. Chancellor Angela Markel isn't plotting lone wolf attacks on crowds in Times Square. Or so we've heard.


So, that's what they do when the government shuts down.

In 2001, Rep. Sensenbrenner sponsored the (deep breath) Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act. Now, he plans to atone for the mistake by sponsoring the (deep breath) Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet Collection, and Online Monitoring (USA FREEDOM) Act.

He doesn't stand alone either. According to Ars Technica, he has 70 bi-partisan co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 12 more in the Senate.

What does the bill propose?

  • A privacy advocate to argue against the government in FISC proceedings;
  • Disclosure of all past FISC opinions that "include a significant construction or interpretation of law;"
  • Allows private companies to disclose aggregate statistics of surveillance orders;
  • Requires the government to provide annual or semiannual reports of the numbers of FISA orders.

Much of the proposals come from prior attempts to reform NSA practices. Thanks to the bipartisan support, this bill seems like it actually has a chance of passing, and while that won't make future UN galas less awkward, it'll at least be a few steps closer to FREEDOM from government surveillance.

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