Ever since 9/11, the government has been collecting all phone calls. Supposedly, they have only been collecting the general specifics: Who called who, how long they talked, how many times they talk and so forth. The NSA claims that they were given the power to do this through the Patriot Act. Their interpretation of this law has been upheld by top secret hearings and even lower courts. Now that has changed.
The Washington Post reports:
A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records violates the USA Patriot Act, marking the first time an appellate panel has weighed in on a controversial surveillance program that has divided Congress and ignited a national debate over the proper scope of the government’s spy powers.
The ruling means that the surveillance of Americans, who are not under suspicion of unlawful acts, is illegal. It means that the NSA, two White House administrations, and several judges have interpreted a bill in such a way to cause the NSA to breach the law. But many think that this illegal activity is needed for our safety. In fact, many on both sides of the aisle are seeking to extend the section of the Patriot Act that has been used to justify this spying; section 215.
The ruling comes at a key time, with relevant provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire June 1 and Congress debating potential changes.
And this seems to be the court’s motive for allowing the collecting to continue, even though it deemed the NSA’s actions to be unlawful.
“In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,” the opinion written by Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch said.
There is a debate over the usefulness of the law, as well as its legality. The NSA and two presidents have said that these actions were needed to prevent further attacks. They argue that the law and the NSA’s interpretation of it were both lawful and expedient. But, we must resist the temptation to act pragmatically or out of fear, which some are seeking to do by making a law to replace Section 215.
The Post reports:
With the statute scheduled to expire June 1, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House and Senate is seeking to renew it with modifications that sponsors say will enable the NSA to get access to the records it needs while protecting Americans’ privacy. The bill, the USA Freedom Act, is poised to pass the House next week.
It seems that this is Section 215 lite. It gives the NSA access to the records that it is now collecting as the need arises. Many in this bipartisan coalition feel that the NSA metadata collections have kept us safe, but there is a problem with this view.
As Judge Napolitano has said, “In the NSA treasure trove were the emails and text messages of those two monsters and idiots in—outside Dallas Sunday Night that tried to shoot up people for having a conversation about Islamic cartoons. Were they stopped by the NSA? No!”
Well said. We cannot forget that we are a people of law, and when we abandon that law, we have turned ourselves over to men to remake us into a different country. Never be fooled into thinking that we can preserve our safety by giving up our liberty. If we do, in the end, we will lose them both.