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McConnell introduces a bill to expand NSA until 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell introduced a bill on Tuesday that would expand the NSA authority until 2020. Yesterday the bill was read a second time and put on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. The bill seeks to expand the most critical part of the Patriot Act; Section 215.

Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Intercepter who became a household name when he was leaked top secret documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has been one of the most vocal opponents of Section 215 writing;

“The official start of the post-9/11 era assault on core civil liberties was the late 2001 enactment of the Patriot Act, regarded even then as a radical and dangerous erosion of constitutional protections. Though it has subsequently become normalized through years of bipartisan support and surpassed by even worse abuses which it enabled, it is still a serious menace to freedom, exploited by the U.S. government far beyond the realm of terrorism. We now have the best opportunity since its enactment to end it, and we should devote all of our energies to doing so.”

With little more than a month left until congress is forced to make a decision on Section 215 of the patriot act, the section which the NSA operate and is governed, it’s no surprise there is action being brought forward. To those who support the powers given to the NSA, now is the time to act. Congress has two options in their arsenal, either extended Section 215, effectively extending the powers of the NSA or let their their powers expire.

Unlike most bills, McConnell and the bills co-sponsor, Richard Burr, who also serves as the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, utilized a rule allowing the bill to be introduced to the senate floor without being vetted.

The bill puts him in a particularly odd position with fellow Kentucky lawmaker and presidential hopeful, Rand Paul. As Ellen Nakishama from the Washington Post pointed out,

“McConnell’s move puts him at odds with the candidate he has endorsed for president, Sen. Rand Paul, a fellow Kentucky Republican, who pledged to end the NSA program — which he called “unconstitutional surveillance” — if elected.”

The bill, which can be followed in here, is seeking to expand the controversial program that many regard as an invasion of privacy and an overreach of the US government.

With a presidential election right around the corner, it will be interesting to see how the scope of the NSA is handled.

The bill has already earned itself criticism from privacy advocates. Harley Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said “For Americans concerned about government intrusion in their lives, the bill is a kick in the stomach.”

When posted on Reddit, one of the most up-voted comments in the thread criticized McConnell, calling him a traitor.

“Today I learned McConnell is a traitor,” wrote user diefree85.

One thing is certain, the policy and powers that are available to the NSA posses a real threat to the expected right to privacy of US citizens.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a press release criticizing the McConnell-Burr extension bill on Wednesday.

“EFF strongly opposes such a “clean” reauthorization. We urge users to tell Senator McConnell and their Senators to end mass surveillance under the Patriot Act, not renew it,” the press release stated.

“The unconstitutional bulk collection of phone records must end now. And EFF vigorously opposes any clean reauthorization the Senate Intelligence Committee or Senate Majority Leader may propose like S. 1035.”

The EFF also took the chance to promote Fight215.org, a website organized by the EFF and 34 other organizations seeking to overturn Section 215. The website warns visitors, that “The Patriot Act and the reauthorizations that followed had myriad bad provisions. But it’s Section 215 of the original Patriot Act that the NSA re-interpreted in complete secrecy to allow them, with the help of the FBI, to collect millions of phone call records per day. The government could even try to use Section 215 for bulk collection of financial or other business records. With your help, we can stop Congress from simply rubber-stamping Patriot Act Section 215 — and stop this mass suspicionless surveillance program once and for all.”

5 comments

  1. S.1035 does not EXPAND §215. It extends the sunset provision of §215 and §206 for the fourth time since the 2005 Improvement & Reauthorization Act was first implemented. The sunset provision can be found at §102(b), P.L. 109-177, 120 Stat. 195 of the I&R Act.

    Please be extra careful with your word choice when engaging in legal writing. Even words that you may thing are synonymous, can have significantly different legal effects when understood within the context of an entire piece of legislation. Just ask Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the author of the Patriot Act, who has repeatedly talked about his own shock regarding how the language has been interpreted and applied by the NSA.

    • Jinobi

      Apologies, sunset provision is just legal-ese for expiration date.

      Also, to clarify, an expansion would be something to the effect of allowing retention of all mobile communications, despite where they are originated and where they are received*; whereas an extension makes no substantive modifications and only seeks to extend a law in its current form.

      *(Currently a phone call must have one party outside US territory, or the phone call needs to have traveled to foreign server in order to fall under the exception to the FISA warrant requirement).

      • Jinobi

        Also, to clarify, an expansion would be something to the effect of allowing retention of all mobile communications, despite where they are originated and where they are received*; whereas an extension makes no substantive modifications and only seeks to extend a law in its current form.

        *(Currently a phone call must have one party outside US territory, or the phone call needs to have traveled to foreign server in order to fall under the exception to the FISA warrant requirement).

        • Jinobi,

          Thanks for your comments, at publication the text of the bill was unavailable.

          Clearly extend and expand do have two different meanings here.

          Yes, this bills aims to extend parts of provisions of 215, not expand it, giving it greater power.

  2. wud luv to slit open Mitch McConnel’s throat and tear out his esophagus and watch him struggle for his last breath.

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