A Sunset Is A Beautiful Thing

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
May 28, 2015

In the wake of a recent appellate court’s decision that the NSA’s domestic dragnet collection of phone call records is illegal, political support for maintaining the legal provision that the government used to justify the program has all but vanished. For the first time in a dozen years, we have a real chance at ending one of the most abused and misused parts of US surveillance law. Congress should allow section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act to expire.

The U.S. government indiscriminately spies on American citizens for no reason whatsoever and with few if any controls. If you think that should end, you are a surveillance reformer. The only question is: how to reform?

In the next few days, the first of many surveillance reform battles will end. Section 215, the alleged authority under which the NSA has been indiscriminately gathering phone data on Americans, will expire, or sunset on June 1st. Congress is, right now, hotly debating what to do. For practical reasons, the two most likely outcomes are either that the Senate will pass the House’s version of the USA Freedom Act or that the Senate will be unable to agree on USA Freedom and Section 215 will sunset.

Reauthorizing 215 as is is basically off the table. That’s because, in a feat of parliamentary procedure know-how, Senator Rand Paul’s eleven hour floor speech Wednesday made it too late for any reauthorization bill to clear the Senate in time for the House, which has gone on recess, to vote on it.

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