Last night, privacy hawks won a decisive, if temporary, victory against the surveillance hawks who control the House and Senate (specifically, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Adam Schiff (D-CA) in the House, and Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and Richard Burr (R-NC) in the Senate). This was a bi-partisan victory against a bi-partisan foe, as advocacy groups on the left, right and center pulled together on Monday to blast our uncompromising message to the Senate: don’t you dare extend Patriot Act surveillance authorities for another 3 years without enacting significant reforms to protect our privacy and First Amendment rights (see DRAD’s statement here and below).
In December, just before they were due to expire, Congress extended three PATRIOT Act authorities, including Section 215, until March 15 in order to give Congress time to debate and reconsider these authorities and adopt necessary reforms. But just last week, without any debate, Speaker Pelosi rammed the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act through the House, forbidding any amendments that might have improved the bill to protect privacy, free speech, and association. In the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell tried to do the same thing, he tried to ram the bill through while preventing any amendments from Senators Daines(R-MT), Leahy (D-VT), Lee (R-UT), Wyden (D-OR), or anyone else. But our allies managed to block a vote, so the surveillance authorities lapsed on Sunday.
On Monday, Senator McConnell attempted to come roaring back and again tried to ram the bill through the Senate without debate or amendment, but he needed 61 votes to achieve cloture (an end to debate and force a vote). He didn’t have the votes, so he was forced to compromise with our allies. The result is not perfect, a 77 day clean extension, with an agreement to consider amendments from Senators Paul, Lee, and Daines to strengthen reforms. Even with these three amendments, the bill will not include enough reforms and protections to satisfy us.
The extension must still pass the House, which is currently on spring break. According to The Hill,
To pass the House without bringing lawmakers back for a vote, it would need consent from every member. One hundred and thirty six members voted against the House deal last week; it’s unclear if any of those members would return to Washington, D.C., this week to block a clean short-term extension.
DRAD and our allies have been working with members of the House and Senate on this reauthorizaion for over a year, urging them to take seriously the gross abuses of authorities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. For over a year, members of Congress have not taken seriously their responsibility to do oversight and rein in abusive surveillance. They have now kicked the can down the road twice. We’ll continue to apply pressure to reform or end these surveillance authorities to prioritize the Constitutional rights of persons in the U.S.