For The Oldham Era
Published: April 2, 2015
By RAE HODGE
Congressmen Thomas Massie, R-KY, and Mark Pocan, D-WI, have introduced the Surveillance State Repeal Act, H.R. 1466, legislation that would repeal several federal mass surveillance laws enacted in the 2001 Patriot Act.
The bill falls just short of full-scale repeal, though goes after the heart of the act by targeting controversial provisions, several of which are already up for renewal by Congress this year.
Among them, those portions that enable the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct programs like those revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“We filed the bill this week because we wanted to get it filed before the debate really begins about renewal. Certain provisions will expire if not renewed and it will be very difficult to renew it without reforms,” Massie said.
Currently, the debate centers on the NSA’s most controversial program—the collection of metadata. Elected officials are attempting to decide whether the NSA should be allowed to collect metadata at all on U.S. citizens. A person’s metadata may include things like what a person searches for online, to whom a person sends an email and what phone numbers a person calls.
The NSA has previously cited the Patriot Act as the legal basis for this phone metadata harvesting surveillance program. Additionally, the bill would repeal the FISA Amendments Act, which contains provisions for email data harvesting.
“One reform discussed was, instead of government collection of data, phone companies could hold it for a time period. Right now phone companies could hold it for a month, or a year or five years. But telling companies to hold that data for however long is the definition of an unfunded mandate.”
Lawmakers will have to settle the debate before May, as the programs will shut down if not re-authorized this spring.
Massie said he’s aware that the full repeal of the Patriot Act is a tall order, but that by combining the right elements, it may have the chance to move forward in certain committees.
“Because it is so drastic in its reforms it will be difficult to lift. Many parts have been passed before, though,” he said, such as the provision which would prevent government entities from putting pressure on software developers to create backdoors into software for spying or, more euphemistically, for security.
“We got a vote on that as an amendment last summer as part of the appropriations. The vote of 293-123 was a veto-proof majority passage. That’s a good sign if we could get this bill to the floor,” Massie said.
H.R 1466 also makes retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and ensures any FISA collection against a U.S. person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause.
“To set the tone we wanted to not only repeal but add provision. In addition, our bill will offer additional whistleblower provisions that would cover contractors like Edward Snowden. We feel it’s important to give them a place to go besides Hong Kong or Russia,” he said. “I’d point out that as far as I can tell, today’s whistleblower provisions don’t allow people like Snowden to come to a member of Congress, and this would.”
There are a few things in the Patriot Act, however, that would stay in place even if Massie’s bill passes.
“In our bill we preserve some important features for law enforcement such as the roving wiretap. In the past people would change cell phones to avoid law enforcement and the Patriot Act legally allowed (law enforcement) to have a roving wiretap linking it to a person instead of a phone number,” Massie told the Era.
“We don’t want to eliminate valid tools law enforcement uses to track criminals.”
Pocan said of the bill in a March 24 release “The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy.”
Pocan added that revelations about the invasiveness of NSA programs “reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security. We can live in a secure nation, which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”
Massie said that he and Pocan aren’t the only members of congress carrying the banner for the bill, and that although he is presently the only Republican on-board, four other members have agreed to co-sponsor the measure.
Massie will also be bringing the bill to the other members of the Liberty Caucus, a group of about three dozen House and Senate members.
The Surveillance State Repeal Act is currently sitting in both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, though it hasn’t been called for a hearing in either.