When the 114th Congress turned out the lights and headed home early this month, I breathed a sigh of relief. Many pundits have called this congress a “Do-Nothing Congress,” but considering the damage they could have done, I say that’s a good thing! We can all take some credit. We fought hard to keep them from passing some really awful bills that would have expanded the Patriot Act, created encryption backdoors, targeted student activists, and scapegoated Muslims. On the other hand, we did prevail upon them to do 3 good things this year!
We take seriously our job to alert you about legislation that will affect your civil rights and liberties, and to be your voice in the halls of Congress. We are looking at a challenging year in 2017 and I hope I can count on you to continue to take action with us by participating when we send you an action alert.
Here’s a look at 2016’s good, bad, and ugly:
First, the Good!
In June, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 became law, codifying a “presumption of openness,” which requires agencies to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests unless it “reasonably foresees” that disclosure would harm national security, personal privacy, or a number of other interests protected by FOIA exemptions. YAY!
Read more here.
The Senate confirmed Carla Hayden as the Librarian of Congress! Ms. Hayden is a hero, to those of us who oppose surveillance and love free access to information. As President of the American Library Association, she wrangled with Attorney General Ashcroft over the Patriot Act and has a history of speaking out in support of free access to information, for everyone. YAY! Read more about her here.
The FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act passed the House unanimously on Dec. 7, and by a voice vote in the Senate on Dec. 10. Unfortunately it was weakened significantly, but it does close a ridiculous loophole which prevented FBI whistleblowers who report wrongdoing to their supervisors from being protected against retaliation. YAY! Read more here
As it has for the past several years, members of congress used the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to impose restrictions on transfers from Guantanamo. President Obama will leave office with the prison he promised to close still open, and it is ready for Trump to fill it up again.
The NDAA also includes a provision that creates a national anti-propaganda center, which will be tasked to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation…” This opens the door for a witchhunt against alternative and independent media outlets that report critically on the US government.
We were able to prevent some terrible bills from becoming laws.
#NoBrowserSpying: Together with you and our allies, we spent the spring/summer fighting the FBI’s top legislative priority, which was to expand the Patriot Act to give the FBI to access our Electronic Communication Transaction Records (ECTRs) such as our browsing history, email logs, and cell site data (location information) without a warrant or any judicial oversight whatsoever. BORDC/DDF supporters mobilized twice to fight the measure, and in the end we prevailed. Read more here.
In December, the Senate rushed to pass the Anti-Semitism Awarness Act on the same day it was introduced. The bill was not an effort to combat anti-Semitism, but was instead an effort to curb student activism on Palestinian human rights, according to the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Casey (D-PA). We were able to prevent the bill from coming to a vote in the House, but expect it to be introduced again in 2017.
We also fought off attempts to pass laws to mandate that tech companies create so-called “backdoors” to encrypted devices, despite cynical attempts to use the attacks in San Bernadino and at the Pulse nightclub in Miami to win passage.
There were several efforts to expand the Countering Violent Extremism program legislatively. These bills would have increased surveillance and censorship of the Muslim community.
There were many issues we were not able to move congress to act on. Most glaringly, police reform. For years we have lobbied for the End Racial Profiling Act, and again the bill did not even get considered in either chamber. The same with legislation to decrease police militarization and ban the transfer of many items from the Pentagon to local police including military grade firearms, ammunition and explosives, weaponized drones, LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Devices) and MRAPS (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles).
We expect to be forced to play defense repeatedly over the next year. We’ll publish our 2017 legislative agenda in January, so stay tuned!