Monday, April 27, 2015

The Patriot Act-- Back For Another Go-Round


The intrinsically embarrassing nature of the Patriot Act came front and center again with the appearance on the national scene of NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden. This is a mature democracy? And for Obama... how did he shift from a senator so eloquently critical of unconstitutional surveillance practices to a chief proponent of expanding them? In his book The Edward Snowden Affair, Michael Gurnow looked at how Obama was forced to make a fuss about the Patriot Act once Russia granted Snowden political asylum.
The first is "reforms to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act" even though "[I]t does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant. But given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse." Obama stated adjustments will be made to these two laws to ensure "greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority."

He then proposed FISC oversight in the form of a legal representative being present to review request orders, because the court currently "only hears one side of the story, may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty." Obama, a Harvard lawyer, acknowledged a kangaroo court was in effect because no defense attorney was present to represent those whom the U.S. government was attempting to target.

...The impact of the international disclosures-- especially those pertaining to China, Germany and the EU-- was obvious during the conference. The president very gingerly acknowledged, "[ ... ] how these [surveillance] issues are viewed overseas [is important] because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness, because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation; it’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process." He went on to state, "[ ... ] to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. "
By now you have surely heard of a new Senator from Arkansas by the name of Tom Cotton. He was a 37-year-old congressman who won the Senate seat formerly held by conservative Democrat Mark Pryor in 2014. Cotton took the Senate by storm penning one of the most embarrassing documents ever written by a sitting Senator and then getting the entire GOP Senate caucus to co-sign it-- the infamous Iran Letter.

Undaunted by this humiliation, the Republican Party has decided that Cotton is the man to lead them into the future on national security issues. And unfortunately, he's decided that his next mission will be to lead the Republican charge to extend certain provisions of the Patriot Act which are set to expire this June. They've even added some new powers for the NSA, just to make things interesting.

There was a lot of talk at one time about a new coalition of civil libertarian Republicans and civil libertarian Democrats coming together to reform these programs now that the nation is aware of what they're actually doing. Sadly, the number of civil libertarians in the Republican Party can fit in a small Smart Car and the civil libertarians in the Democratic Party are not a majority. And with über-hawk Tom Cotton waving the “national security” banner we can be sure the Republicans are intent upon squelching any thoughts of reform. This is why it's so important for Democrats to elect more real progressive civil libertarians to Congress. We cannot count on this tiny faction of libertarian Republicans, led by their hypocritical grandstanding leader Rand Paul, to ever provide the numbers required to roll back the surveillance state. Hawkish national security and authoritarian police policies are in the modern GOP's DNA.

This is going to require a majority progressive Democratic Party led by people like Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who is now running for the Maryland Senate seat currently held by retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski. Edwards has been consistent on these issues throughout her career in congress. For instance, in 2014 she voted against the USA Freedom Act, originally conceived as a reform measure, but which was later gutted by the Republicans in committee. She issued this statement at the time:
“After much deliberation I opposed the USA Freedom Act because I continue to believe it doesn’t strike the necessary balance between protecting our national security and protecting our 4th Amendment rights. Without question, national security issues are critically important, and I applaud all those who work at the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and others for their dedication to duty and professionalism. We must provide them with the means to gather the information necessary to keep America safe. However, we cannot allow the pursuit of that goal to infringe on the civil liberties that we, as Americans, hold sacred and fought so hard to defend.”
She will bring that same principled clarity to the Senate.

Last week the House passed yet another Republican surveillance bill. Blue America's slate of progressive civil libertarians voted against, while all the usual suspects supported it.

Blue America primary candidate Alex Law, who is challenging New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross, gave this statement:
Yet again we have a clear difference between myself and my opponent in the Democratic primary in NJ-01. Today, Donald Norcross voted in support of the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill that is a surveillance bill disguising itself as a cyber-security bill. This bill gives companies a significant expansion in their ability to monitor customers' online activities. It allows them to share vaguely defined 'cyber threat indicators,' which then automatically go to the NSA. The NSA is then authorized broad law enforcement rights that could stretch beyond cyber-security. This chain of events is a slippery slope. I totally disagree with the structure of this bill. We must stand up for individual privacy. What we have in this bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and if I were in Congress, I would have voted against it like other progressives such as Alan Grayson and Judy Chu.
The provisions of the Patriot Act which are set to expire in June should not be extended. We don't know for sure if they will. The USA Freedom Act ultimately died in the Senate when the Democrats who were in the majority at the time added a few safeguards and then couldn't overcome a filibuster. (Yes, the GOP ultimately filibustered the bill for being too weak ...) The Republicans are now in charge and Tom Cotton is working overtime to give the NSA every last item on their wish list. Perhaps we'll get lucky and gridlock will work in favor of freedom once again. But I wouldn't count on it.

There are simply not enough principled, progressive civil libertarians in Congress to stop these abuses. We must elect more of them. Please give what you can to stalwart civil libertarians like Donna Edwards and Alex Law.

Then, give your current representatives a call and tell them you want them to vote against any extension of the Patriot Act.

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At 9:12 AM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

And for did he shift from a senator so eloquently critical of unconstitutional surveillance practices to a chief proponent of expanding them?

The same way he went from NAFTA critic in the 2008 Democratic primary to secretly resuming G.W. Bush's TPP negotiations as President in 2009.

Straight up sellout for the plutocracy and the deep state.


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